It's Basic, A Primer on Why Excess Acid is Unhealthy

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Filed Under: Diet
Last Reviewed 03/18/2014

It's Basic, A Primer on Why  Excess Acid is Unhealthy

The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being the most alkaline, and 7 being neutral. To survive, our bodies must maintain the pH very close to 7.4, which is just on the alkaline side of neutral. If the pH varies too much from the ideal, it becomes difficult for various enzymes to function properly. Maintaining this slightly alkaline state is a constant challenge, primarily because of the acid-forming functions that take place within the body, and the over-abundance of acid-producing foods we consume.

One of the waste products that results from muscle activity is lactic acid. You may have heard about the lactic-acid buildup in long distance runners. It can bring on severe fatigue, muscle failure, and cramping. Obviously, we're not all marathon runners, but the constant contraction of the heart, the diaphragm, and the muscles that support our skeleton release lactic acid on a continuous basis. Diet can also be responsible for causing the body to become more acidic.

The idea that various foods influence the pH of the body isn't new. In fact, as far back as the early 1900s, numerous doctors began studying the pH-altering effects of different foods. They found that while a few foods were "neutral" in their effects, most foods were either "alkaline-producing" or "acid-producing." They also found that simply changing the diet could change the pH of the body. Not surprisingly, bringing the body's pH closer to the normal range helped patients get rid of many of their health complaints.

Our diets have changed dramatically since the early 1900s. What were isolated problems 100 years ago have become far more common today. The reason for this trend has become increasingly apparent as I have researched some of today's more common health problems. There's just no question that overall acidity in the body is one of the contributing factors.

The Who's Who of the pH Crew

Over-acidity comes from consuming too many acid-forming foods and not consuming the alkalizing foods to counteract them.

Acid-forming Foods

  • All meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken) and fish
  • Rice (white, brown, or basmati)
  • Cornmeal, oats, rye, spelt, wheat, bran
  • Popcorn
  • Pastas
  • Breads and most other grain products like cereals (hot or cold), crackers, pastries
  • The following beans (unless sprouted, in which case they become alkaline-producing): pinto, navy, mung, lentils, black, garbanzo, red, white, adzuki, and broad
  • Cheese (Parmesan is the worst, along with the sharper cheeses)
  • Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Wheat germ
  • The following nuts: walnuts, pecans, cashews, dried coconut (fresh coconut is alkaline-producing), pistachios, macadamias, filberts, Brazil nuts, and peanuts
  • Colas (I've warned numerous times in the past how the phosphorus in cola turns to phosphoric acid and destroys bone.)
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Most forms of sweeteners (artificial sweeteners, cane sugar, beet sugar, barley syrup, processed honey, maple syrup, molasses, fructose, lactose)
  • Refined table salt
  • Soy sauce
  • Mustard (dried powder and processed)
  • Ketchup (unless natural and homemade)
  • Mayonnaise (unless natural and homemade)
  • White Vinegar (apple cider and sweet brown rice vinegar are less acid-producing and preferred)
  • Nutmeg
  • Tobacco
  • Practically all drugs

Alkalizing Foods

  • Practically all vegetables
  • Practically all fruits with the exception of blueberries, plums, prunes, and cranberries. Even citrus fruits such as lemons, which we think of as being acidic, are alkaline-producing in the body. They are rich in organic salts, like citrates, which are converted into bicarbonates.
  • Beans such as string, soy, lima, green, and snap
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Arrowroot flour
  • Grains such as flax, millet, quinoa, and amaranth
  • Nuts like almonds, pignoli, fresh coconut, and chestnuts
  • Sprouted seeds of alfalfa, radish, and chia
  • Unsprouted sesame
  • Fresh unsalted butter
  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Goat's milk
  • Eggs
  • Whey
  • Plain yogurt
  • Sweeteners like raw, unpasteurized honey, dried sugar cane juice (Sucanat), brown rice syrup
  • Fruit juices
  • All vegetable juices
  • Most herbal teas
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Gelatin
  • Most all herbs
  • Miso
  • Most vegetable and unprocessed sea salt
  • Most all spices
  • Vanilla extract
  • Brewer's Yeast
  • Most unprocessed, cold-pressed oils are neutral or alkaline-forming (even margarine seems to be neutral, but I don't recommend that anyone eat this "liquid plastic")

As you can see, just because a food is acid-forming doesn't necessarily make it unhealthy. I'm not saying that you should avoid all of them. In fact, many of the acid foods are necessary for proper health. It's just a matter of balance. Fixing your acid/alkaline balance isn't the complete answer to perfect health; it's only one piece of the puzzle and its being dangerously overlooked.

The bottom line is that we need to be eating enough alkalizing foods to help our bodies neutralize the acid-forming foods. Throughout the years, there have been numerous diet plans, formulas, charts, etc. that have attempted to outline exactly what foods in what amounts need to be eaten to achieve this balance. Unfortunately, most are too confusing and only make the problem seem too difficult to overcome. In reality, the solution is quite simple.

These findings translate to some pretty straightforward dietary advice: If you sit down and look at the servings on your breakfast, lunch, or dinner plate, they should consist of 75 to 80 percent alkalizing foods and a maximum 20 to 25 percent acidic foods. Realistically, most people will need to eat a few vegetable-only meals each week to make up for excess acid-forming foods. And some people might prefer to eat vegetables, fruits, or other alkaline-producing foods exclusively for three-quarters of their meals. A good protein powder shake for breakfast is also a great idea. These might be big changes for most people, but they are certainly achievable and well worth the effort.

Is Your Body Too Acidic?

If you're always fatigued, run out of breath easily, sigh frequently, experience muscle pain and/or cramping after walking short distances, or often feel like you just can't get enough air, those are a fairly good indication that you're too acidic. I've also found that when people are very acidic, their tissue levels of oxygen are so low that they have difficulty holding their breath for more than 20 seconds. Although it's mainly a test for people who are very acidic, the length of time you can hold your breath is one technique you can use to document the difference that occurs after adapting a more alkaline-producing diet. (In the beginning, it might be best to try any breath-holding tests only while sitting.)

Some researchers now believe that acidosis is a major contributing factor to several other health problems in addition to bone and muscle loss. Acidic tissue levels appear to be common during the initial formation of cancer, and may contribute to insulin sensitivity problems that lead to diabetes.

Based on the research already available, it stands to reason that chronic acidosis is also an underlying contributor to the number-one killer in this country, heart disease. By interfering with the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen at a cellular level, acidosis places an undue burden on the heart. Not only will the heart muscle itself suffer from oxygen starvation, it will be forced to pump harder and more often in an effort to supply more oxygen to other tissues in the body.

For most of us, the more serious consequences of consuming an acid-producing diet are generally not experienced until later in life. Keep in mind, however, that along with many of the so-called "less serious" symptoms--such as chronic fatigue, blisters in the mouth from eating citrus, urinary tract infections, insomnia, low blood pressure, etc.--underlying structural damage to your body continues to occur on a steady, daily basis. Sacrificing your bones and muscles to compensate for an acid-producing diet is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you haven't already, you'll eventually end up paying the debt with your health.

After looking at the lists of alkaline- and acid-forming foods, I know there's going to be a lot of individuals who feel that they probably eat enough of a variety to balance things out. But usually that's not the case. If you can honestly say that 75 to 80 percent of all your meals come from the alkaline foods list, then you're doing okay. If that's not the case, I would suggest making some changes in your diet.

If you make these changes, you may experience some big differences in your health very quickly. Keep in mind that the above studies revealed some pretty dramatic results in just a couple of weeks. You can speed the process up dramatically through juicing. Making and consuming fresh vegetable juices on a daily basis will jumpstart the process of alkalizing your body. That's why so many people feel so good after they begin a juicing program. (Due to the problems associated with blood sugar, I would recommend using only vegetable juices and not fruit juices. Eating whole fruit affects blood sugar less because the fiber in fruit slows the body's processing of fructose.)

Eventually (I hope), alkaline-producing diets will be prescribed for osteoporosis, muscle loss, heart disease, diabetes, and practically every other problem now associated with aging. When, or if, that happens is anybody's guess. In the meantime, change your own diet. There's no downside, unless you consider living a longer, healthier, and more active life a downside.

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