This week our health correspondent Dr. Sebastian Müller (Ph.D.) continues his series on health and discusses alkalising and acidifying foods.
“You are what you eat”
This is such a true statement, and with the increase of variety in today’s supermarkets, it is more important than ever to understand what certain foods are and what they can do to your body. This week, I would like to discuss a phenomenon called blood acidity level, which is a very important indicator of your health and it also indicates whether some foods may be good or bad for you.
In a healthy adult person, the pH of the blood ranges between 7.35-7.45. It is very important for the body to keep this pH constant, i.e. keep the hydrogen ion level balanced, because otherwise cell damage can occur. Blood is a buffer solution and thus it contains substances that help keep the pH constant. If your body digests and absorbs food, it will absorb nutrients, minerals, vitamins and so forth and depending on the composition of the food, this will have an alkalising (making basic) or acidifying effect on the blood.
The body will of course compensate as it is crucial to keep the pH at a certain range. However, this will starve your body of certain minerals and can have detrimental effects on your health. Thus, it is important to keep in mind if the food is acid-or base-forming, and not if it is acidic (i.e. sour) as such. A lemon for instance actually belongs to the group of alkalising foods.
Neither acidic nor basic is bad as such
Often acidic foods are quoted to be bad for you. This can be true, as a lot of junk food is high in processed fats and is acidifying. However, one should aim to have a balanced diet in order to help the blood maintain its natural pH. This includes ingesting the right ratio of alkalising and acidifying foods. If you ingest too much of either, you may encounter problems.
Symptoms of an unbalanced blood pH
Common symptoms of an unbalanced pH include heartburn, belching, bloating and feeling full after eating small amounts of food. Long-term symptoms can include insomnia, water retention, migraines, constipation or diarrhoea, fatigue and bad breath. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to consume a diet of two to four parts alkalising foods to one part of acidifying foods. The more exercise one does (in particular aerobic exercise), the more alkalising foods should be consumed. Exercise creates more acid (in particular lactic acid) which lowers the pH of the blood.
Some alkalising foods are: citrus fruits, most vegetables (except beans), common fruits such as apples and pears, almonds, spices such as cinnamon and chilli. For a comprehensive list, you can click here. Most teas are also alkalising and green tea is a fantastic way to keep your blood acidity levels in check (for a review, click on the previous article on green tea).
Some acidifying foods are: cheese and other processed dairy products, most grain products including pasta, bread and flour, beans, red meats and other animal proteins, plant oils, most alcoholic drinks, coffee and some drugs, like aspirin. Again, you can find comprehensive lists online.
Prolonged consumption of acidic foods can trigger early onsets of osteoporosis. Calcium is a major component of bones and the body uses Calcium ions to compensate for too acidic blood levels.
Can I test blood acidity levels?
You can of course see your doctor to get a blood test done. During blood tests, one of the things s/he will look at will be the acidity of your blood. Also, you can get strips to measure the acidity of your blood. Simply get a finger pricker and you can measure the acidity of your blood very easily. There are also electronic measuring devices on the market. Ideally, you should monitor the acidity before and after meals and draw a chart to see how it develops. Your body will always try to compensate, thus keeping an eye on it is a better option than a single test.
How should I go about this?
There is no need to panic and suddenly look at each ingredient in your diet. I would suggest to assess the main components of your diet and put them in a table. In the Western world we usually consume too much acidifying food but that does not hold for everyone. If you find your diet to be unbalanced in these terms, simply consume a little less acidifying food (such as bread and oils) and more alkalising foods (such as citrus fruits and vegetables). Also, try to avoid acidifying foods in the evening, as it will help your sleep and may prevent insomnia. If you have trouble sleeping, read the advice on insomnia in a related article from our health correspondent Bailey Bradmore.
I hope this information will help you with your diet. If you have severe problems with your digestion, you might also find our reviews in IBS useful: Coping with IBS – Visceral Osteopathy and Coping with IBS.
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