pH balance: Can diet make you ‘acidic’?
Originally published in The White Rock Sun, November 2016
Among the many highly debated health topics, is the belief your body can become acidic from eating acid-forming foods, like meats and grains . . . and that being ‘acidic’ is linked to poor health. These assumptions are partly right and partly wrong, because they have been extremely simplified. Your body’s alkalinity or acidity – your pH balance – is a very confusing, complicated process.
Can we become acidic? Well . . . yes and no. Yes, because if you eat an acid-forming food, like meats or grains, a pH test might indicate you are ‘acidic’ until your body eliminates the acid residue (therefore, you can be very healthy, yet still test ‘acidic’). And . . . most likely no: your body has many differing pH levels. It precisely maintains the levels of its many systems, so unless you have organ failure or were poisoned, it's difficult to become entirely ‘acidic.’ If you were, you could not function normally. You wouldn’t be sitting here reading this. You would most likely be severely ill, perhaps in the hospital – or dead.
Your body is designed to maintain the many differing pH levels required in various areas of your body. The human body (including all its pH levels) is not static – everything is constantly changing to maintain homeostasis or ‘balance.’ There are several metabolic pathways that carefully monitor and adjust your pH levels in response to diet, stress, exercise, and many other factors. If this didn’t happen,
The confusion about acid/alkaline balance can perhaps be attributed to the simplified mindset that being acidic is ‘bad’ and being alkaline is 'good.' Actually, our bodies are a balance of both, as are our foods – that’s nature’s design. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, you can be temporarily ‘acidic’ but not ill, or you can test ‘alkaline,' yet still have poor health.
Our bodies are a balance of
both acid and alkaline, as are
our foods. That’s nature’s design.
Another reason for the confusion is not understanding the difference between symptom and cause.
If you use a pH test strip to test your urine or saliva and it reads acidic, this is a symptom that you recently ate an acid-forming food (generally categorized as meats and grains). The food was the cause of that symptom. If you are healthy and eating a balanced diet which includes lots of alkaline-forming foods (predominantly fruits and vegetables), this symptom of ‘acidity’ is temporary. No need to worry. But if you are not regularly eating a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, you may want to investigate your acidity symptom so as not to cause poor health in the future.
The underlying cause of your symptom (the acidity) was your poor diet. But many choose to treat the symptom instead, with a heavy focus on alkaline-forming foods, alkaline water, and other alkalizing products.
Here’s the problem with treating the symptom only: While it will definitely change and correct your test results (and perhaps make you feel better, only because you increased your plant consumption!), you haven’t really addressed the underlying cause of your abnormal levels. You haven’t learned anything. The underlying issue wasn’t corrected because you simply put a band aid on the problem. This is similar to blood pressure and cholesterol testing. Like pH testing, these tests can be used to measure your health. A poor test result may be an indication of poor health, but not the cause of it. Yet many doctors immediately prescribe drugs to reduce high levels of cholesterol or hypertension (the symptoms) failing to investigate the cause of why those levels became high in the first place.
When testing your urine/saliva pH, acidity is the symptom. You need to treat the underlying cause of that symptom: Poor diet. Therefore, choose to eat a balanced diet of both alkaline and acid-forming foods, because it was the imbalance that caused your ‘acidic’ test results and/or your poor health in the first place. Following an ‘alkaline only’ diet again limits your variety of nutrients, just as it did with the ‘acidic’ diet. Both can create health problems over time.
A healthy diet is a major factor in maintaining a balance in health – including the balance of your pH levels. The focus should be on moderation, variety and balance in your food choices. You do not need to eat only alkaline-forming foods, use costly alkalizing products . . . or learn to test your pee.
We are designed to operate with a healthy balance of both an acid and alkaline pH, thus we can include acid-forming foods – whole grains, nuts & seeds, and some fish or meat if you like – they all contribute valuable nutrients to keep you alive. So don’t worry about having salmon or quinoa (both ‘acid-forming’), especially if you accompany them with a generous serving of vegetables and perhaps fruit for dessert (both ‘alkaline-forming’). Our diet should be a balance of acid and alkaline foods. Nature wants that. (But personally, I like to advise leaning a bit more toward the alkaline side, due to their high fibre and other nutrients – so eat lots of veggies!)
It’s obvious how healthy and balanced your diet is, just by looking at it. You don’t need a urine test to determine that. Do you even eat vegetables? How many? How often? Do you eat fruit daily? Are you having these plant-based foods at every meal? A truthful answer to these questions trumps the need to test your pee. If you aren’t eating plant foods – or if you are regularly flunking your urine tests – that’s a darn good indication you aren’t getting a lot of variety in your diet; specifically the plant foods. Thus, you are missing vital nutrients your body needs to function efficiently.
Nutrients are the tools your body requires to keep you alive: Deprive yourself of any nutrient and you’ll get sick. These are simple facts that many people just don’t ‘get’ (and why we continually fall for diet myths). Being ‘acidic’ is not the issue you need to be concerned with – the root of the problem is malnutrition.
Your body will become malnourished if all the nutrients you need are not being supplied. If you are malnourished, you’ll become ill in some way. And yes, that can include getting cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Fruits and vegetables offer the most anti-oxidants (disease fighters) and other phytochemicals vital to ensure good health. We now realize that plant fibre in particular is a major contributing factor to the health of our intestinal ‘gut’ bacteria – which has been strongly linked to the health of our immune system. However, the average person doesn’t eat enough plant foods; at least two servings of vegetables at every meal (including breakfast!).
It’s unfortunate that acid-forming foods are the bulk of our typical Western Diet, because this only fuels the belief that acidity equals poor health. The average person eats lots of meats, dairy products, caffeine, as well as plenty of highly processed stuff like sugar, salt, flour, hydrogenated fats, etc. Grains are slightly acid-forming and we eat far too many refined grain products. We are a sandwich culture: bread, buns, pastas and other flour-containing products constitute a large part of the average person’s diet. The problem is many of these foods (especially the highly processed ones) offer few, if any, nutrients. Because our diet has such a focus on the above mentioned foods, we have limited our nutrient variety and therefore we suffer poor health. It’s no wonder many believe acidity means illness.
If you continue to follow the typical Western Diet, over time, the limited food variety will deprive you of so many nutrients. Without adequate nutrition to help your body function normally, it won’t be able to handle the added abnormal workload of neutralizing your pH levels. Your body will soon become exhausted.
Eventually, this ongoing, exhausting work leads to other health complications, perhaps involving your kidneys and maybe your bone health. You may also risk muscle loss, aching joints, and chronic inflammation. By the way, does this slowly-evolving series of health issues sound familiar? It should. We call it “aging” – or what many of us recognize as aging. In my opinion, this gradual progression to poor health (aging) can be largely avoided or, at the very least, slowed with a
You just need to use common sense. Quit eating the junk (highly refined foods) and eat more veggies. For those with mild health complaints, just taking these two simple steps will reap significant improvements. Even those with serious disorders like cancer should be very careful about limiting nutrients with any restricted-variety diet: This is really not the time to restrict nutrients. There’s no need to limit your food variety to only alkaline-forming foods. Focus on getting rid of the junk and eat a wide variety of natural,
Incidentally, I’m not criticizing The Alkaline Diet. It does encourage eating more plants and allows a selection of acidic-forming foods, so it can be a healthy food plan to follow. My comments throughout this article refer to the practise of eating ONLY alkaline-forming foods, and omitting all acid-forming ones. However, my one concern with The Alkaline Diet is it may encourage the good-food-bad-food mentality – that acid foods are bad and alkaline foods are good. Some people may choose to restrict or omit many healthful food choices, risking their good health over time. In this case, you would not be healthy because of poor nutrition, yet your pH tests may read alkaline because you are still eating alkaline-forming foods. And in the reverse situation, as mentioned earlier, you can be healthy, yet still test as ‘acidic’ after eating acid-forming foods. This shows how inaccurate it is to connect good or bad health to your pH balance.
‘Acidity’ is how you want to interpret it: You can overreact, or you can relax and realize it normally happens from time to time. It really isn’t an indication of poor health. But it can be a symptom – possibly a warning to smarten up and eat more sensibly.
Treating the symptom (acidity) with ingesting only stuff that’s ‘alkaline’ is not fixing the problem. If you regularly test 'acidic' then obviously your diet is lacking in variety because you are eating only a select type of food (in this case, the more acid-forming ones). You need more nutrition – more food variety. But eating only alkaline-forming foods is the same as eating mostly acid-forming foods: You are again limiting the nutrients from healthful acid-forming foods and you'll still risk future poor health.
You achieve ‘pH balance’ simply by eating healthful, real foods and choosing from a wide variety of them. This provides all the tools your body needs to keep you balanced; to keep you healthy.
All whole, unrefined foods should be included in your diet. This is your only guarantee you are getting all the nutrients (known and unknown) you need to survive. Perhaps follow Michael Pollan’s simple rule: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
A former newspaper editor, Eve Lees has been a Nutrition Coach and a Health Researcher, Writer & Speaker for almost 40 years. www.artnews-healthnews.com
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