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Are acidic foods ruining your health?

Posted July 4

The alkaline diet claims that living "acid free" will dramatically improve your health. Does the evidence back these claims? (Deseret Photo)

Whether you notice it or not, balance is a key player in everyday life. Balancing your checkbook, balancing work and play, or simply balancing in heels on your walk to work. But what about balance at a more cellular level? The alkaline diet aims to do just that by controlling acid-base balance within your body. With its myriad health claims to boot, it’s no shock that the alkaline diet has gained a huge following.

Proponents of the alkaline diet believe that living “acid free” will improve energy levels, stimulate weight loss, improve immunity and prevent chronic disease (such as cancer and osteoporosis). Where does the balance lie, and is there validity to these claims?

What is the premise of the alkaline diet?

The main premise of the alkaline diet (aka alkaline-ash or alkaline-acid diet) is that foods create either an acidic or alkaline environment in your body. The way it’s described, acidic foods will disrupt your body’s natural equilibrium and promote disease, whereas alkaline foods will maintain your body’s balance and boost your immunity. Different foods are thought to be either acid-producing or alkaline-producing:

  • Acid-producing foods (restrict intake)
    • Includes meat, dairy, eggs, grains and alcohol
  • Alkaline-producing foods (increase intake)
    • Includes fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts
What do acid and alkaline mean?

Acid and alkaline are levels of pH (ranging from 0 to 14). A pH level below 7 indicates acidity, whereas a pH above 7 indicates alkalinity. Seven is neutral.

So what’s the relation between pH and your health? Essentially, maintaining proper pH levels throughout your body is fundamental to stay alive. Different parts of your body operate at different pH levels in order to function properly. For example, your stomach has a pH of 1.5 to 3.5 (acidic) in order to breakdown food, whereas the pH of your blood ranges from 7.35 to 7.45 (alkaline).

Can you control your pH?

The alkaline diet suggests that eating acidic foods can directly alter the pH of your blood, thus causing stress on your body to neutralize the acid. In doing so, it’s thought to cause cell damage, mineral imbalance and a host of inflammatory conditions (such as eczema or headaches). Sounds pretty debilitating, right? Luckily, it’s also false. The truth is, if external factors such as food can actually cause your blood pH to fall out of range, then the human race would be extinct. Your pH is maintained involuntarily, just like your heartbeat. You cannot physiologically alter your own body’s pH even if you tried.

As humans, we perform a miraculous function called homeostasis to keep our bodies in equilibrium. For instance, our kidneys continually excrete excess alkaline or acid (via urine) depending on what our body needs at any given time. The process is not hard on our bodies. Our organs are simply doing what they were born to do.

Does this sound balanced to you?

A major disadvantage of the alkaline diet is its lack of variety. Restricting major food groups such as meat, dairy and grains not only makes it mundane to follow, but also deprives you of essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron.

At the same time, the alkaline diet has one clear advantage: it focuses on increasing vegetable intake. This suggestion would be a wise choice for the 87 percent of Americans (http://www.ksl.com/0?sid=40015593&nid=1010&title=the-simple-health-choice-that-most-americans-are-ignoring) who aren’t reaching their recommended intake of vegetables each day. Other so-called “alkaline” foods include fruits, legumes and nuts, all of which Americans also fall short on.

If you’re considering the alkaline diet, the main issue is that its proposed method of action is without basis. If you value your time, it would be wise to avoid trying to effect voluntary control over an involuntary process. Case in point, the starting pH of your food is irrelevant. Instead, focus on controlling balance of what goes into your body by eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, and let your body work its magic from there.

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