Alkaline vs Acidic Foods: Can You Eat Your Way to a pH-Balanced Body?

July 10, 2015

Are you pH-balanced? Most likely, at any given moment, the answer is…

Yes! Now what does that mean, exactly? The term ‘pH’ stands for ‘potential hydrogen’—the measure of hydrogen ions in your body fluids and tissues. When something is acidic, it has more positively charged hydrogen, and when it’s alkaline, it has more negatively charged hydrogen. Basically, you need these to be in balance in order for your body to function properly. Just like blood pressure, hormone levels, and temperature, it’s critical that pH levels are in a safe range. But if you’re dehydrated, over indulging in meat, or exercising vigorously for a long period of time, you need to be careful.

What is an alkaline diet?

This range goes from 0 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline). Water, which comprises most of our bodies, is neutral at 7. Different parts of your body are at varying pH levels at any given time. An acidic stomach (pH 1.35 to 3.5) facilitates digestion and protects against microbial organisms. Same with skin (pH 4 to 6.5)—a protective barrier against bacteria. So, clearly, acidity—with all the word’s negative connotations (acid reflux, acid rain, acid wash)—is not a bad thing.

Blood, however, should hover slightly on the alkaline side with a pH between 7.365 and 7.4. If it falls below that, you’re in trouble. Symptoms of acidosis, or excess acid in the blood, can range from headaches and fatigue to muscle weakness and heart arrhythmia. But don’t worry—your kidneys have it covered. “When the pH is off in your body, your kidneys kick in to regulate it and the excess acidity is excreted in your urine,” says registered dietician Kathryn Bloxsom. “Your kidneys are incredibly efficient at ensuring that all the parts of your body, from your stomach to your blood, are at the correct pH.”

Alkaline Diet Foods

So, should you bother eating alkaline foods? Science doesn’t support the idea that an alkaline diet regulates blood pH balance.  But don’t let that stop you from eating them! Alkaline foods are ones you’d benefit from eating anyway for good health: mineral-rich plant foods like leafy greens, wheatgrass, sprouts, avocados, seaweeds, green juices and smoothies. “[Eating alkaline] does encourage a healthy eating pattern—one that is mostly vegetarian. It helps to reduce the amount of sodium in the diet, and increase beneficial vitamins and minerals,” says Bloxsom.

A 2012 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that even though an alkaline diet doesn’t affect your blood pH levels, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables and a reduced acid intake preserves muscle mass in older men and women, promoting long-term bone health. The diet reduced risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension and strokes, and increased growth hormones, improving cardiovascular health, memory, and cognition. Also, added magnesium supported activation of vitamin D, also great for bone health.

Reduce Consumption of Acidic Foods

Acidic foods are ones that might be better consumed in moderation: red meats, walnuts, brazil nuts, alcohol, caffeine, white flour, white sugar, white bread, rice, and dairy. But no matter what you eat, your body will automatically return itself to homeostasis. If you’re too hard on your system, though—say, eating bacon cheeseburgers and candy bars everyday, it could lead to other other health issues that could hinder cellular processes and also increase risk of kidney stones and chronic diseases.

pH Imbalance Symptoms

Some potential symptoms of a pH imbalance are: insomnia, headaches, frequent sighing, shortness of breath, water retention, low blood pressure, foul-smelling stools, difficulty swallowing, and sensitivity to vinegar and acidic fruits. If these things happen, go see a doctor. It’s very unlikely that your blood would fall below the safe alkaline level, but if it does, it could signal disease. (Don’t bother with pH level testing kits on the market—they’re not reliable since urine pH levels vary depending on your body’s needs for regulating its internal environment.)

But rest easy—your body is probably taking pretty good care of you from the inside out.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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