Proponents of the alkaline diet believe that we eat too many acid-forming foods and that excess acid is a source of many of our chronic illnesses. Critics of the diet say that the body’s pH is tightly regulated and cannot be affected by subtle changes in diet. What the critics do not say is that they tried putting chronically ill people on the diet and did not see good results. You won’t hear critics say this because the opposite is true. People who go on this diet usually are rewarded with better health. This diet is appropriate and beneficial for just about any chronic health problem.
The critics may be right about the diet directly affecting pH. In all likelihood the diet probably affects the body’s ability to buffer acids. In other words, the “acid” diet probably doesn’t change the pH of the body but rather makes the body work harder to maintain its pH.
According to proponents of this diet, eating the wrong foods creates acid systemically. Diets that are high in fat, protein and simple sugars are too acid. To reduce the acid burden the body links acids with alkaline minerals (like potassium, calcium and magnesium) and excretes them.
The excess acid load has a negative effect on energy production in the cells, enzyme function and tissue resilience and repair. This acid burden, when coupled with constant exposure to pollution, food additives, and poor digestion, burdens the immune system and exceeds the body’s reserves. A continuous state of distress can emerge, resulting in the increase of the chemical messengers of distress (such as cortisol, adrenaline, and insulin).
Some practitioners believe that we don’t live off the food that we eat; we live off the energy in the food we eat. They believe that it is better to eat live, raw foods than it is to eat cooked foods. Some confusion in terminology has resulted because of the way that the discussion evolved. In investigating how different foods might affect the acid-alkaline balance, various foods were burned to ash in the laboratory, and the pH of the resulting ash was measured. These foods were then classified as acid, alkaline or neutral ash foods.
In fact, if you read various authors about the alkaline diet you will see lots of inconsistencies. One author will say that nuts are all acid; another will say the almonds and cashews are alkaline. Quinoa is either acid or alkaline depending on whom you read. There are differences in opinion about how pH should be measured. One author will say the urine should be pH 7, another will say that a pH of 6.8 is good.
Various alternative practitioners have referred to acid- and alkaline-forming foods, based on the reaction of foods in the body. One thing that is considered a highly acidic way to eat is the combining of carbohydrate with protein.
In general, alkaline ash foods contain more magnesium, calcium, potassium and/or sodium. These are minerals that form alkaline compounds. Most fruits and vegetables are considered alkaline. Acid ash foods contain more chloride, phosphorus or sulfur, minerals that form acid compounds. These acid ash foods include meat, fish, poultry, legumes and grains, which all contain high levels of phosphorus, and mustard and eggs, which contain sulfur. Some fruits like plums, prunes, cranberries or rhubarb are considered acid-forming since they contain either oxalic or benzoic acid, organic acids which are not completely broken down in the body.
There is some individual variation as to whether foods are treated as alkaline or as acid. Genetics also plays a role; some groups can handle protein better than others. One possible explanation may be that people of different blood types handle protein differently. People who are blood type O seem to do better with more protein. Many groups of people who have not been exposed to civilization and therefore enjoy life relatively free of our civilized chronic degenerative diseases eat a diet that is a little more acidic (according to the model presented) than what is recommended here. Their diets are very nutrient-dense and that is at least as important as pH balance.
For regaining health, eating 80% alkaline foods and 20% acid foods has been recommended. Eating four vegetables and two fruits to one starchy food and one protein food approximates this number. The reason this proportion works well here is that most Americans eat a high-acid diet. We eat a lot of grain and protein and not a lot of vegetables. We also tend to combine starch and protein. Changing these eating patterns often has dramatic results in improving health.
The excess acid load has a negative effect on energy production in the cells, enzyme function and tissue resilience and repair. This acid burden when coupled with constant exposure to pollution, food additives and poor digestion burdens the immune system and exceeds the body’s reserves. A continuous state of distress can emerge, resulting in the increase of the chemical messengers of distress (such as cortisol, adrenaline and insulin).
Whether or not you believe in the effect that food can have on your systemic pH, the alkaline ash diet is a very healthy way to eat. In fact, the issue may be more about our capacity to buffer acids or alkaline foods. A diet that is too high in protein and refined foods may make it harder for you to regulate pH; it doesn’t put you in acidosis. Blood never becomes acidic during life; the critics of this way of thinking are right about that. The diet is, however, effective for restoring health—for whatever reason. Increase the amount of alkaline foods and decrease the amount of acid foods to help to restore your health.
There are those who have taken this information to mean that all acid foods are bad all of the time and that you should never eat animal products, and that all acid-forming foods are akin to poison.
There are some problems with this way of thinking; a diet in which these acid ash foods are absent can lead to deficiencies that undermine the body’s ability to maintain the proper blood pH. Meat and other animal foods provide protein and vitamin B12; red meats provide zinc. Both are needed for the regulation of acid-base balance. Fat-soluble vitamins and protein found in organ meats, shellfish and meat in general help maintain the health of the lungs and kidneys. Good lung and kidney function is necessary for good acid-base regulation.
The concept of alkaline and acid ash is a good one, but you also have to take into account the need to eat natural, nutrient-dense foods. With that in mind, take a look at what kinds of foods improve alkalinity.
Alkaline foods: Fruit (most), vegetables (except peas, beans), lentils (some consider lentil acid, others consider them alkaline), spices, herbs and seasonings, seeds and nuts.
Acid foods: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, grains and legumes.
Of course, this is a generality. Some grains, like wild rice, quinoa and oat are mildly alkaline. Quail eggs and duck eggs are mildly alkaline. Nuts are generally alkaline, but walnuts and Brazil nuts are acidic. There are books written on the alkaline diet, or you can ask your health care provider. If you want to get into more accurate detail, Dr. Russell Jaffe has written a book on the subject, The Alkaline Way. In general, alkaline ash foods are those that contain large quantities of magnesium, calcium, potassium and/or sodium—minerals that form alkaline compounds. Most fruits and vegetables are considered alkaline. Acid ash foods are those that contain chloride, phosphorus or sulfur—minerals that form acid compounds. These acid ash foods include meat, fish, poultry, legumes and grains, which all contain high levels of phosphorus, and mustard and eggs, which contain sulfur.
Many foods that seem acidic to us are actually alkaline. Foods like lemons, oranges and tomatoes, for example, are considered alkaline.
It must be stressed that these lists vary and sometimes it is best to follow the general rules: grains and proteins are acid, and fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables are alkaline. The important thing to do is to eat a lot of produce and to eat whole and unprocessed foods (like the advice given in the Basic Diet).
If you want to restore your health, about 80% of your diet should be alkaline foods. In more practical terms, the recommendation was four vegetables and two fruits to one starchy food and one protein food. This is the proportion of foods for the day. If, instance you have 3 oz. of protein one day, you need 12 oz. of vegetables and 8 oz. of fruit for the day. You are also allowed 3 oz. of grain, but it is not to be eaten with the meat.
Maintaining health is easier. If you do not have any major health problems, you need eat 60% alkaline foods to maintain your health. This translates to one protein, one starch, two vegetables and one fruit. If you have 6 oz. of protein, you then need 12 oz. of vegetable and 6 oz. of fruit for the day. You are also allowed 6 oz. of grain—but it is not to be eaten with the meat. When you eat this way, fruits and vegetables will dominate your diet; if these are fresh and raw, so much the better. If you can get organic produce, that will remove the burden that pesticides place on your body. For more information, see Dr. Jaffe’s book.
Animal products are on the list of acid foods, but you are allowed some of these—unlike those eating a strict vegetarian diet, you can have some meat. It’s like following Thomas Jefferson’s advice to use meat as a condiment, which may be healthier than a strict vegetarian diet.
Grains are on the list of foods that should be minimally consumed. What do Americans eat? They eat sandwiches, chicken and rice, meat and potatoes and other combinations of meat and starch, in other words, an extremely acid-forming diet. Eat more alkaline foods and fewer acid foods and your energy will increase and your health will improve.