Our bodies are composed of trillions of cells that form a variety of vessels, organs, glands, fluids, muscle and structural components that must all communicate and function in a coordinated manner to maintain balance and health. Our cells use electrical gradients that regulate the environments necessary for proper protein and enzyme functions that drive processes such as the production of energy, communication and interaction between cells, growth, proliferation and housekeeping tasks such as recycling and waste removal.
In addition to salt concentrations, a major determinant that governs the cell’s electrochemical state is pH, which is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity. The scale ranges from 1 to 14 with 1 being acidic 7 being neutral and 14 alkaline. Different organs, tissues and fluids function optimally under different pHs. For example the optimal pH for blood is 7.365 and for our brains is 7.1 which are both on the slightly alkaline side. Saliva, on the other hand can range between 6.0 and 7.4. Our bodies constantly strive to maintain balanced acid-alkaline states and it is ultimately determined by the foods we eat. What remains of all foods after complete digestion are residues referred to as ash. Foods that leave an alkaline ash help to alkalize the body while those that leave an acidic ash lower pH.
The most common diet-causing imbalance leads to an overly acidic environment, which is a result of unhealthy diets and lifestyles full of stress and processed foods that are low in vegetables, fruits, healthy proteins and fats. In the short term, this may not creates problems, but long-term, chronic low pH can negatively impact the function of all cells within the body and has been linked to a number of disorders and diseases including fatigue, depression, suppressed immune function, allergies, skin and gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, the drugs normally prescribed to treat some of these health issues can exacerbate the problem by creating more acid within the body. For more detailed information about how an acidic pH can lead to specific disorders and diseases, please see below for a list of references.
Proper pH levels are crucial for overall health and the best way to maintain these is with a healthy diet. However, if you suspect that your acid levels may be out of the normal, healthy range, you can have your blood pH tested by a physician or test your saliva yourself at home using litmus paper. The following list describes ways for you to regain and/or maintain normal pH levels:
1. Drink water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime or a “green” drink before meals. Although lemons and limes (and grapefruit) are citrus (acidic) fruits, they produce an alkaline “ash” or residue after digestion that alkalizes the body. One of the easiest ways to incorporate them into your routine is to drink clean, filtered water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime first thing in the morning and even 15-30 minutes before lunch and dinner. You should also drink plenty of clean, filtered water throughout the day.
There are many green drinks that can be found at natural foods markets and some grocery chains. They are concentrated vitamins, minerals and enzymes coming from one or more sources including wheat or barley grasses, algae, and/or leafy green or cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, beets, celery and kale. They come in powdered form and can be mixed preferably with clean, filtered water. A number of recipes are also available to make them fresh at home. One example is Oprah’s green drink. Blend the following ingredients in a blender until smooth or run through a juicer:
3 stalks celery
1 chunk fresh ginger
1 cup fresh spinach
2. Eat more alkalizing vegetables and fruits. By far, the most alkalizing of the food groups are vegetables. With some exceptions such as corn, vegetables such as artichokes, beet greens, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, zucchini, green leafy and cruciferous varieties as well as fresh herbs such as parsley are all mild to strongly alkalizing to the body. Lemons, limes, grapefruit, bananas and avocados are good fruits to eat as well. Choosing much of your diet from this food group will also ensure that you’re getting plenty of fiber, which will help to eliminate waste and toxins in a timely manner. There are a number of acid-alkaline food charts online. Variations arise between charts with regard to the alkaline or acid nature of some foods from the fruit, vegetable, grain and legume groups. Most recommend a 4:1 ratio of alkaline:acid foods. Here is one example.
3. Eliminate processed foods/junk foods. Everything we’ve been told to avoid – processed foods in boxes, bags and cans and junk foods like cookies, chips, sodas, candy – all can have excessive amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats and unnecessary and harmful chemicals whose breakdown generate toxins and can lead to poor nutrient absorption in the gut and an acidic environment. Replacing these junk foods with healthier foods like fruits and vegetables will help to restore and maintain proper pH levels.
4. Soak or sprout nuts, seeds and grains. In general, nuts, grains and seeds are acidifying, however, once sprouted, they take on alkalizing properties that include more easily digestible proteins, starches and fatty acids as well as an increase in the levels of enzymes, vitamins, minerals and oxygen. If you’re interested in sprouting, I’ve made a video that demonstrates the process.
5. Eat organic as much as possible. Organic produce is free from pesticides, foreign gene products and compounds used to preserve and grow most conventionally cultivated fruits and vegetables. The soil used to grow organic plants is also more nutrient rich than soil that uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so organic produce may contain a greater nutrient content than fruits and vegetables grown using chemicals.
6. Combine foods for the most efficient digestion. The three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats, all require different environments and pH’s for their digestion. For example, proteins from meat, fish and eggs require an acid environment in the stomach. Carbohydrates initially use saliva in the mouth then the slightly alkaline environment of the small intestine to complete digestion. When eaten together, proteins and complex carbs are digested less efficiently, which means less of their potential nutrients become available to the body. In addition, these partially digested foods can ferment in the colon, creating toxins and an unhealthy environment, leading to gastrointestinal problems. Fats slow down the digestion of both proteins and carbohydrates. Here is a chart that can be used as a guideline to combining foods for the most efficient digestion and absorption.
7. Reduce stress - Anxiety and negative emotions such as anger and fear have serious detrimental consequences on our bodies that can add to the toxic environment of an acidic pH and further promote disease and aging. Deep breathing exercises, as well as yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques can all help to reduce stress by calming the mind, eliminating toxins and increasing the supply of oxygen to the body.
Andrews, Asa. 2007. Empowering Your Health: Do You Want to Get Well? Thomas Nelson Publishing.
Guerrero, Alex. 2005. In Balance for Life: Understanding and Maximizing Your Body’s pH Factor. Square One Publishing.
Meyerowitz, Steve. 2002 (7th ed.). Food Combining and Digestion: 101 Ways to Improve Digestion. Book Publishing.
Young, Robert, and Young, Shelley Redford. 2002. The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health. Warner Books.