A new craze seems to have swept the shores of yo-yo diet land, internet nutrition experts and food fanatics: The Acid-Alkaline Diet. After having lived through the Atkins and Paleo craze, this ‘new-found wisdom’ of pH-altering foods seems to be catching on rather quickly because a large body of research supports its effectiveness.
It is not so much another fad diet or celebrity obsession, but a sensible way of how to optimise health and banish most chronic disease. The only important thing to remember is that the word ‘diet’ is wholly inappropriate, it always has to be a lifestyle change and once you are won over to the alkaline side, you want to stay there for the rest of your life – holidays, weddings and other celebrations excluded!
Before we delve deeper into food chemistry, we have to get some facts right. Human blood has a pH of around 7.4 which is slightly alkaline. 7.0 is neutral, while anything below this figure is considered acidic. Naturally, the body functions best in a slightly alkaline environment and any deviation from the perfect pH will have an effect on every single cell in your body. The problem of over-acidity is not a novelty to the medical world but, in fact, has been around for centuries. Gout was known historically as the ‘rich man’s disease’, with the vast opulence and exuberant consumption of meat leading to an accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints, most commonly the big toe. Gout is an extremely painful condition and a recent rise in cases across the UK is also attributed to a diet very high in acid forming foods.
A diet high in acidic foods does not have to result in gout and there are many other conditions associated with imbalanced pH levels. Before we get to hung up on the idea of an acid or alkaline body, we need to understand that if the pH of the body were to change dramatically this would result in significant cell death and becoming very ill. As such, the bloodstream is very sensitive to changes in acidity and as soon as pH levels drop (= increased acidity) the body works hard to bring them back to normal in order to protect our cells and process. To do this signals are sent to the bone and muscle, important mineral stores, to release calcium and magnesium which act to neutralise the rising acidity. Alkalising foods can help to counter the acidity, by not only having a higher pH, but also through providing many of the minerals the body would otherwise need to leach from our bones and tissues. Greens for example are a great source of calcium and so help to neutralise the potential negative impact of highly acidic foods, whilst preserving bone structure.
Acid forming foods – such as fizzy drinks, animal protein and dairy produce – can therefore contribute to osteoporosis and thinning of bones. Drinking pints of milk and eating blocks of cheese might not be the answer to strong bones after all – unless you also eat lots of greens!
Other symptoms of ‘acidity’ might not be as obvious as seeing a brittle network of minerals on a bone scan. An acidic pH deprives every cell of oxygen, reducing the rate of cell renewal and therefore accelerating the rate of ageing. Mitochondria, your energy-producing factories inside the cells, can also become damaged and weak resulting in symptoms of low energy, poor recovery after exercise and a sluggish metabolism. Your lungs may also be affected: in an attempt to restore an alkaline environment, lung tissue produces mucus to clear out any excess acidity. Coughing, difficulty in breathing and chronically blocked sinuses are signs of a lack of alkaline foods in your diet.
As your liver, kidneys and intestines are involved in the processing and protection against an acidic environment they can become overwhelmed and your skin reflects the damage done on the inside. Eruptions, redness, acne and even boils are a clear sign your body is struggling to cope with keeping pH levels under control and you may also be at increased risk for bacteria and yeast infections, including Candida.
Even though human life is dependent on oxygen, too much of it can create an acidic environment. Just by breathing ‘wrongly’ or too fast and too much we can create an imbalance in our internal environment. Yoga and meditation are fantastic ways to improve posture and breathing, and you will be able to shift the balance towards alkalinity without even looking into your fridge.
Besides banishing bad breathing habits, following a few simple rules can pave the way to an alkaline lifestyle and minimise the chances of chronic disease. Foods that really push your pH into the red zone include all animal meat, dairy, eggs, farmed fish and sea food, chocolate and dried fruit. Whilst we don’t want to restrict the excellent sources of protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals, it’s important to choose good quality products that are, ideally, free range and organic where possible. Eating these in smaller amounts throughout the day and preferably with green vegetables will help balance out their acidic potential.
One of the biggest threats to perfect alkalinity is fructose and other high fructose syrups found in most processed foods such as malt, rice, date, agave and corn-derived sweeteners. Don’t be fooled by the apparent innocence of beverages because coffee, tea (including green tea), sweetened fruit juices and fizzy drinks are just as acidifying as a big lump of barbequed steak!
Just because a food is acidic, it doesn’t mean we are not allowed to come within 100 feet of it. The key is to combine these foods with something alkaline and ideally increase your overall intake of alkalising foods, to restore a ‘neutral’ balance. Drinking water with plenty of fresh lemon juice squeezed into it throughout the day, acts as the ultimate alkalising agent (though acid, it’s actually alkalising within the body). Then add a large helping of steamed kale or spinach or other dark leafy greens to each meal you have that contains high acidic foods. Greens are the champions of alkalinity and should be part of your diet at least once a day!
Most grains can add an acidic load to the body, including whole wheat and brown rice. Alternatives such as buckwheat, quinoa and spelt are considered neutral or slightly alkaline and are a far better option. Most nuts are considered slightly acidic but almonds contain the most neutralising minerals such as calcium and magnesium and are a perfect snack for on the go.
Consuming a diet rich in alkalising foods is a fantastic way to help maintain health regardless of whether or not you suffer from a specific health condition. If following diets and guidelines found on the internet always check your sources so you don’t end up buying into the latest diet fad, with the prospect of little success and large holes in your pockets. It’s important to also bear in mind that alkalising diets are ones that encourage high consumption of plant foods known to be high in vitamins, minerals, fibre and a host of other health-enhancing phytonutrients, that help us to stay happy, healthy and full of beans. A diet based on an abundance of seasonal vegetables, with a little fresh fruit and adequate proteins and good fats is always going to top the healthy diet charts.