Healthy Diet

The Science Behind Food pH

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Our daily habits shape our internal health. Every day we expose our bodies to numerous stressors that affect both our mental and physical well being. Preventing or repairing all kinds of damage, processing food and nutrients into energy and the involuntary processes we carry out on a daily basis are all directly tied to the foods and supplements we include in our diets.

The pH Scale

Generally speaking, everything we consume (foods, drinks, supplements, medicines, etc.) fall into one of two categories on the pH scale: acid or alkaline. The pH scale is from 0-14. An ‘acid’ is any food that’s below 7.0, and ‘alkaline’ is above 7.0. Water is 7.0; it’s neutral.

We should aim to keep a pH that hovers between 7.35-7.45, slightly above neutral, with room for variation. Often, the exact number is not easily measured (even with pH strips) and it fluctuates throughout the day. The pH of our blood varies from that of our stomach and so on (1).

More often than not, you’ll notice the effects of a pH imbalance through a common range of symptoms — fatigue, frequent sighing (meaning there’s a slight trouble with breathing), skin issues, headaches, inflammation, etc. We know that a healthy gut and essentially our immune system, stems from maintaining a balanced gut biome so obviously the digestion of foods, whether acid or alkaline, will have an impact. How does a pH imbalance occur? Although external chemicals and antibiotics can take their toll, it’s mainly acquired through a consistently poor diet. Grains, conventionally raised meat and dairy products, alcohol, processed foods and sugar can all contribute.

These foods cause or contain acid. Their pH prior to digestion may differ from how their pH affects digestion, which is where we get terms like “becomes alkaline,” for example. The food pH itself may not change, but it affects digestion so it’s known as acid or alkaline forming. Also, keep in mind the food is being broken down so to a certain extent, it does change. The pH scale can often be misleading and so are the semantics associated with it.

It’s what happens inside of our bodies that matters most, not necessarily the number. During digestion, the kidneys send out electrolytes (potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium) to balance the acid. If there’s too much, our bodies will use stores from other organs and bones in order to reverse potential damage (4). This is what occurs with dairy. Despite the calcium dairy contains, it actually ends up depleting our existing calcium stores as its being neutralized. If cells are continually robbed of their nutrition, they won’t function properly. Nutrition absorption is compromised as well as toxin elimination. The balance of acid begins in our gut, but slowly all of the different systems become negatively affected (2).

Ignoring the effects of wear-and-tear leads to health problems, but prevention and maintenance is relatively easy to get a handle on. Again, the actual pH of the food doesn’t directly correlate to its acid or alkaline forming tendency; its how our bodies process it (3). Generally speaking, natural foods are alkaline, where as processed foods aren’t. Also, there are many lists available that state whether a food is very alkalizing or moderately alkalinizing, etc. For example, you’ll see one list that says an avocado is ‘moderate’; another will say ‘very.’ It isn’t necessary to break each one down by where they are, but they can be grouped into main categories.

Animal Products

Animal meat, including beef and chicken, is considered acidic. Eggs, liver, bacon and other such animal products are also acidic. Some sources state that chicken and eggs are actually alkaline. Regardless of this discrepancy, all animal products are acidic during digestion.

Removing all animal products because they’re acidic obviously isn’t ideal. Each product and its source should be looked at individually. The benefits of responsibly raised meat usually outweigh the acid it creates. For example, grass fed and pastured animal products are rich sources of vitamins, including K2 and B-vitamins.

Less notable are conventionally raised meat and eggs which contain lesser amounts of vitamins and are of poorer quality. Too much meat, even grass fed, leads to an unhealthy amount of sulfur by-products which will eventually deplete healthy enzymes. Lastly, is dairy; a food group that affects everyone differently. For the most part however, dairy does have acid forming tendencies.

Discretion should be exercised when deciding how much and which animal products to eat. The important thing is not to overdo it when it comes to meat and to include alkalizing foods alongside.

Vegetables

When it comes to vegetables, most, if not all, are alkaline. That’s easy enough to remember. The vegetables considered the most alkalizing include cucumber, kale, spinach, parsley, sea vegetables and sprouts. Exact numbers range depending on what list you look at, but for the most part, any vegetable is alkaline and it’s benefits your pH. Cruciferous vegetables including broccoli and cabbage should be included. Non-leafy root vegetables, such as carrots, beets and turnips, are also beneficial. Peppers, spices such as ginger, garlic and turmeric are also alkalizing. Additionally, these herbs and spices contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Eating vegetables gives your body an alkaline boost, as well as fiber and additional micronutrients. If you aren’t always able to sit down and eat a full meal, juicing is the next best thing. Ignore the concept of a ‘detox’, but adopt the habit of frequently juicing. It’s best to consume juice within 20 minutes of making it, or to make sure you buy HPP or cold pressed juice, where processing ensures enzymes have been locked in. Rotate vegetables to get the most micronutrients, especially leafy greens.

Fruit

Fruit is alkaline, but depending on the level of ripeness it can occasionally fall into the acidic category. Some studies suggest it’s only a true alkaline if it’s in season.

Ripeness and season should be considered because they also affect a fruit’s vitamin content, but usually fruits that aren’t ripe aren’t as appealing and don’t get consumed as often. An example is an avocado that’s completely green and hard. Even when ripe, they rank from ‘moderately’ alkaline to ‘very’, which is where most fruit falls. Bananas that have brown spots are an example of a very alkalizing fruit. In season fruits vary from region to region, so it helps to pay extra attention when researching the source of the fruit. A good rule of thumb is that it’s always good to go local and organic when you can.

Citrus has a very low pH, but have an alkaline when digested. Arguably, the most alkalizing food is the lemon because it has additional compounds which help to promote healthy organ function and toxin removal. A freshly squeezed lemon in water is one of the easiest and quickest methods to alkalize; extra points for drinking it first thing in the morning, prior to coffee.

Everything Else

The additional condiments we take in also can be categorized. We eat less of them than actual foods, so for that reason they have less of an impact. Fats, such as grass fed butter and organic unprocessed oils are generally considered to be neutral. Organic virgin coconut oil is mildly alkaline. Processed oils are acidic, and should be avoided. Nuts, including tree nuts, are mildly alkaline. Vinegars are acidic; with organic apple cider vinegar being the exception. Fermented foods promote a healthy gut, so they’re generally considered a good addition to maintaining alkalinity. Alcohol, including red wine, is acidic. Sweeteners are acidic, but organic honey is a slight exception. Spices are usually alkaline. As with any proper diet, these are additions and after a while, the answers are pretty obvious. The closer the food is to its natural state, the more of a likelihood it’s alkaline.

Essentially, a diet high in vegetables, grass fed and pastured animal products, healthy fats and proper supplementation is the best way to achieve optimal health (5). While the semantics of whether or not a food is alkalizing or if it becomes alkalizing doesn’t actually matter, the effect of that food does. A big portion of our immunity and our athletic function does indeed stem from our gut. By maintaining a diet in foods that protect and keep electrolyte enzyme stores strong and intact, we’re able to nourish our health and with proper training, improve our performance.

Need help getting your gut health back on track? Try Synbiotics SB3.

References

1.“Acidic and Basic Foods.” Chirocare Health. April 2016.            

2.”The alkaline diet: is there evidence that an alkaline pH diet benefits health?” Schwalfenberg. Oct 2012.

3. “BBB – pH Value of Various Foods.” FDA. 2015.

4.“Metabolic Acidosis.” Seifter JL. October 2013.

5. “Influence of diet on acid-base balance; Seminars in Dialysis.” Remer, T. July 2000.

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