Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
Acid and alkaline. You may remember these terms from your high school chemistry class, but odds are you haven’t thought about the concept of pH in years. But did you know that acidity and alkalinity play an important role in our everyday lives—and in our bodily health?
Chemistry and Your Health
In fact, acidity and alkalinity may be key in determining your current health, and, more importantly, your predictive health—the chances of your incurring chronic diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, and other poor health conditions. Let’s first discuss a little background chemistry.
The concept of pH (power of hydrogen) is a quantitative one; it measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is. Acidic substances have a low pH (i.e., under 6.0); conversely, alkaline substances have a higher pH (over 6.0). The human body operates best under mildly alkaline conditions, with the ideal range being a pH between 6.2 and 7.4. Note that pH levels fluctuate depending on the time of day; for instance, the body’s pH is lower in the morning. Blood itself is an alkaline substance.
The Food Connection
All foods have either an acidic or alkaline potential. This simply means that when you consume these foods, they will either raise your body’s pH (make it more alkaline) or lower it (make it more acidic). Why? This effect occurs because after our food is broken down and digested, there’s a residue left that needs to be excreted. If this residue is acidic, the body has to take an extra step and buffer it with various vitamins, minerals, and other substances before it can be excreted safely. If the body can’t produce adequate buffers (because they’re lacking in your diet, for example), then you will remain in a more acidic state. Likewise, if your diet is overflowing with vitamins and minerals, you’ll have plenty of buffers available when an acidic food comes your way.
Here’s the problem: if your body’s constantly receiving an influx of acidic foods and it is unable to buffer and excrete this acidity properly, health problems can result. Often these problems aren’t noticed immediately, but show up as chronic conditions (like arthritis and osteoporosis) or, in more extreme cases, as diseases like cancer.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to keep your body functioning optimally—and alkaline. The foods we eat have been rated on the potential renal acid load (PRAL) rating system, which measures the acid/alkaline-forming potential of different foods. Here are some brief, basic guidelines on which foods to eat and which foods to avoid:
• Acidic (avoid): red meat, processed soybeans, barley, peanut butter, dried fruit, pastries, and sweets.
• Alkaline (consume): vegetables (especially green vegetables), whole grains, honey, and beans.
Another item to keep in mind: it’s not only the foods we eat that can contribute to our body’s pH. In fact, our mindset is a big player, too. Stressed? Irritable? These negative emotions and feelings can harm our body’s alkaline balance, causing increased whole-body acidity.
How Can I Tell?
Possibly the quickest way to estimate your body’s pH is to give your diet a closer look. How frequently do you consume acid-forming foods? What about alkaline foods? What’s your vitamin and mineral intake?
To get a little more accurate, you can also assess your urinary or salivary pH by purchasing pH paper from a health food store and checking your secretions at the same time in the morning and evening. If you notice you tend toward the acidic side of the scale, you might consider swapping out more alkaline foods, and tracking your pH for change. By carefully following an alkaline diet, you will usually notice a change from acidic to alkaline in two to three weeks.
At the same time, you should feel a big difference in how you feel.
How acidic is your diet, and how might it be hurting you? For more information on acidic and alkaline foods, browse this chart.
Katie D'Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.
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