In order to become familiar with this important balance, some chemistry must be discussed. Don’t get too put off, if I can learn it anyone can. Chemists use an acid/base measurement called the pH scale, which they use to determine how acidic or alkaline (basic) a solution is. The terms base and alkaline are used interchangeably. The scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Our bodies like to operate at about 7.5 pH. Any fluctuating up or down from that number is going to lead to a more basic or acidic state and physiological changes will occur.
Every food we consume besides water is broken down in the body into either an acid or alkaline ash. Our diets today are far from balanced and individuals tend to consume a largely acidic diet. This can lead a number of problems, but first lets look at what foods are what when talking about the acid/base problem.
As a general rule dairy, meat, grains, and nuts are acid forming in the body. Cheese and meat are the most acidic. Nuts and grains tend to be more neutral but still acid forming. Here is a list of foods ranked from most acidic to least acidic:
Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, egg yolk, salami, brown rice, turkey, chicken, peanuts, beef, pork, fish
As a general rule fruits and vegetables are all alkaline forming. Here is a list of foods that have high alkaline ratings:
I should also mention that the amino acid supplement Glutamine is strong alkaloid. In fact, after a highly acidic meal, glutamine is pulled from the muscles to neutralize the acid load.
Remember, its not that acid foods are the “bad guy” in all this. Like Omega 6’s and 3’s there needs to be a proper balance here. Protein and acidic foods have never been so prevalent and cheap. The government subsidizes corn making it an extremely cheap feed for cattle, therefore making meat much more affordable.
This leads me into a very specific acid/alkaline imbalance that can lead to osteoporosis. Doctors/Nutritionists will tell you to increase your calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis and have strong bones, and they are right in saying that. However, when we think of calcium sources, that picture of Derek Jeter with a white stache immediately comes to mind. The problem with milk is that yes, it does contain calcium, but it is also a protein dense food. When we drink milk or eat other high protein foods, the blood becomes highly acidic. To maintain homeostasis and the proper blood pH, the body taps into our bones and pulls an alkaline mineral, calcium, directly from our skeleton. Calcium counteracts the acidity of the blood. This is now a big problem because not enough calcium ingested from milk can make up for the subsequent bone loss.
Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, has studied the link between high consumption of animal protein and disease for over 30 years. The U.S., Sweden, New Zealand and Finland are largest milk consuming countries in the world. The U.S. and NZ currently have the highest incidence of hip fractures of any other country(2). I know I have strayed away from the acid/base subject for a moment, but it is important to understand that milk is not the answer for strong bones. In fact, it may do more harm than good. A discussion for another day.
I think most can see the underlying theme here: balance meat consumption with fruit and vegetable intake. It is very difficult to get sick on an alkaline diet whereas, a high acid diet is known to increase mucous, a sign that the body is congested and out of balance.
I hope this physiologically based give-and-take system makes it clear that there are consequences for the typical high acid American diet. Our bodies like an alkaline environment; things just simply work better. If we can calm down the inflammation and get away from the chronic state of acidosis, we are all on the way to better health.