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Many naturopathic doctors support maintaining alkaline-acid balance in the body through consumption of particular foods because it is believed by some to promote optimal health and prevent disease such as cancer. The theory behind the alkaline-acid balance is that due to our body’s pH being slightly alkaline (normal range is 7.36-7.44) the food we consume should reflect this. This theory suggests that we should consume approximately 75% alkali (base) forming foods and 25% acid forming foods. Basically this means that the majority of our diets should be made up of fruits and vegetables, something that dietitians and Canada’s Food Guide supports. The thought is that the pH balance is disrupted when the diet is high in acid food consumption (such as animal protein, sugar, caffeine and processed foods). Stress and pollution, as well as over-exposure to magnetic radiation (from computers, TV, cell phones and microwaves), are also believed to increase the acidity of the body. An acid environment in the body would deplete the body’s alkaline minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium. This can result in a greater susceptibility to disease.
Associated Symptoms of Excess Acidity
- Gastritis, acid digestion
- Leg cramps and spasms
- Joint pain or arthritis
- Muscle pain
- Formation of cysts (eg. Ovarian cysts, polycistic ovaries, benign breast cysts)
- Weak nails, dry hair, dry skin
- Nervous, irritable, stressed, anxious
- Low energy, chronic fatigue
- Excess mucus production
- Nasal congestion
- Frequent colds, flues and infections
Validity of the Acid Base Diet
At this point the research does not support the theory behind the acid-base diet. The pH of our body is so tightly regulated that foods do not have a direct effect on our body pH. Our digestive system is more acidic to help with the digestion of food, which is then buffered and our cells are basic. The byproducts of cellular respiration are acidic, producing H+ ions that are used in the production of ATP energy. The acid is buffered through respiration (expelling Co2 and water), kidney function (carbonic acid) and bone buffering. There can be an increase in the acidity of our bodies due to metabolic acidosis which is a sign of underlying disease processes affecting the body. The inability of the kidney to excrete H+ ions due to renal failure, increase H+ion load due to lactic acidosis or ketoacidosis (from diabetes, alcoholism or starvation). Metabolic acidosis or respiratory acidosis due to emphysema or other respiratory diseases can also be caused by inappropriate wasting of bicarbonate ion from the kidneys or GI tract. In summary, an acid environment in the body is not caused by the food we eat but rather by an underlying diseased state.
Implications of Acid/Alkaline Imbalance
A number of studies have researched the effect of acid and alkaline imbalance on bone health. While it is well known that vitamin D and calcium are important nutrients to prevent osteoporosis, reduced fruit and vegetable intake (highly alkaline forming) and high protein, alcohol and processed food intake (acid forming), has also been associated with decreased bone density for a number of reasons.
- Studies have found that calcium is released from the bone in response to a physiologic decrease in pH (acidic). Essentially, bone acts as a buffer to increase pH during metabolic acidosis, by releasing calcium and protons.
- Metabolic acidosis has also been found to increase osteoclastic activity (breaking down of bone) and decrease osteoblastic activity (building bone), thus decreasing bone density.
- In addition, acidosis has been found to decrease renal calcium reabsorption, thus increasing calcium urinary excretion.
- Lastly, as we age our renal function diminishes and there is a decreased ability to excrete acid. A reduced renal acid excretory capacity has been found to result in higher levels of acidemia in the elderly and higher susceptibility to lower bone density (leading to osteoporosis).
How to test the pH of your blood
An individual�s pH level can be tested through urine, blood plasma, or saliva. A popular and easy way to test pH balance is by urine on the end of litmus paper and comparing the resulting colour to a chart that indicates the pH. Litmus papers can be found at health food stores and some drug stores. Readings of pH are measured on a scale from 0-14, with 7 being neutral, below 7 being acidic and above 7 being alkaline. Ideally a balanced blood pH would read between 7-7.4.
Alkaline versus Acidic Foods
There are a number of charts listing what foods are considered acid and alkaline forming. There is some discrepancy between some foods being alkaline or acid forming, but this is fairly complete list. Because a food is acid forming or base forming does not mean that your body will become acidic or basic after eating that food.
Acid Forming Foods
Alkaline Forming Foods
Grains and pasta
|Fruits and Vegetables
Whether there is any truth to the acid/base diet, the dietary recommendations are still relatively healthful as long as you don’t eliminate whole food groups.
- Eat your fruits and veggies! Vegetables and fruits are alkaline and host many nutrient benefits. Aim to fill your plates with these colourful nutrient dense foods.
- Find stress coping mechanisms. Take a yoga, pilates or meditation class or simply go for a relaxed walk. Focus on relaxed breathing. Quit smoking
- Drink up! Drink spring water and lots of it and limit beverages such as alcohol, sugary drinks and pop.
- Eat regular meals and watch your portion sizes
- Add spices and herbs for flavouring your meals
- Try some ancient grains such as amaranth and quinoa for a change
- Eat meat free at least once a week and try some protein alternatives such as soy beans, tofu, tempeh, almonds, cottage cheese and eggs
- Remember that a varied, balanced and colourful diet is key to promoting health
Bottom line: If the majority of your snacks and meals are full of vegetables and fruits, adequate portions of lean protein (~15% of your diet) and you limit sugar (all forms), caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, soft drinks and tobacco, you are on the right track for maintaining a healthy diet and achieving optimal health, regardless of their acid/alkaline properties.
Watch for the Eating for Energy segment every Tuesday on BCTV’s Noon News Hour!