Acid or alkaline foods – it's all about balance for a healthy diet
In some of our previous blog posts, you might have heard us talk about whether foods are 'alkaline' or 'acid' based and be wondering what on earth we were talking about. So we thought we'd explain! Our bodies are naturally alkaline – in fact our natural body pH is around about 7.0 (1). In case you weren't paying attention in Chemistry class at school, the pH scale runs from 0 to 14, where 0 – 6 is acid and 8 to 14 is alkaline – 7 sits nicely in the middle and is neutral.
Our body's processes function best in this neutral range, yet metabolic processes such as digesting food and repairing tissue produce acid in our systems. If our tissues become too acidic, it can cause problems with digestion, skin, organs and even how well our bodies recover from injury.
How is acid formed?
Acid in our bodies can be harmful if the overall environment becomes acidic, and acid is formed in a variety of ways, including:
Digesting food generates acid. For example, sulfur and phosphorus are naturally found in beans, grains, meats and some other foods. When the body metabolises these, it creates sulfuric acid and phosphoric acid.
Allergies and immune system responses
Being allergic or hypersensitive to something generates acid within the body
How harmful is an acidic environment?
When an acidic environment is thriving in your body, you might not be aware of it, but you'll definitely notice some side-effects. Most people will find they have less energy than usual, and you may also feel bloated or notice fluid retention. Your body creates more free radicals, and your immune system doesn't function as well as it should, which could leave you more prone to colds and flu.
The balance of pH in your body can also affect how your body absorbs and stores nutrients. For example, loading your body with acidic foods could prevent the proper absorption of magnesium, leading to a deficiency (2).
How to test your body's pH
So how do you actually know if your body's pH is at normal levels? You can test your pH using pH paper – yes, the same kind you used in Chemistry at school! It's best to do this first thing in the morning when you go to the toilet, but you can also test your saliva. Again do this first thing before eating breakfast. If your pH is low (the normal morning range is between 6.4 and 7.2), you might want to look at making some changes to your diet to alkalise your body.
Acidic and alkaline foods – what's the difference?
So how do you return your body to its alkaline state? The foods you eat can have a huge impact. Did you know that the pH of a food doesn't indicate what effect it will have on the pH of your urine or saliva? Oranges, for example, are a highly acidic fruit, but when metabolised by the body, they make your urine alkaline!
It probably comes as no surprise to you that many refined and processed foods are highly acid forming, taxing your body. You don't need to cut out acidic foods altogether, but when trying to return your body to its natural alkaline state, you should try to ensure your diet is made up of 80 – 90% alkaline-forming foods.
This is not an exhaustive list, and you'll find a full list here (3). But here are some of the most common acid-forming foods:
- Fizzy drinks
- Milk and other dairy products
- White flour
- Kidney beans
- Most nut butters (not almond butter)
The list of alkalising foods is longer and includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, plus tofu and tempeh. Rather than list every single alkaline-forming food, we've made some recommendations below for alkalising foods to include in your diet.
Eating more foods which promote an alkaline body environment can only be good news for your health. Try adding these to your daily diet:
They may taste acidic, but apples are an alkalising fruit that will help to balance your body's pH levels. Enjoy them alone as a snack or sliced added to salads or on crispbread, with cottage cheese, for a delicious post-workout snack.
Honey is incredibly alkaline-forming and a great alternative to refined white sugar. You can use it in cooking, baking and desserts or to sweeten breakfast granola or porridge. It's even great added to green tea or herbal tea as a natural, healthy sweetener.
Did you know that raisins are one of the most alkaline-promoting foods? It's easier than you might think to include them in your diet. A handful of raisins and nuts (we love almonds) makes a great protein-rich snack, or enjoy wholefood fruit and nut bars or muesli containing raisins as a healthy breakfast. Raisins can help to relieve constipation and they're packed with loads of energy, so they're ideal as a pre or post-workout snack.
You already know we love carrots – they're packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, vital for healthy skin and vision. But carrots are also an alkaline-forming food. For maximum health benefits, enjoy carrots raw – use them as dippers for home-made hummus or make a healthy grated carrot salad with our vinaigrette recipe.
Cauliflower is an under-rated vegetable and we love adding it to soups and vegetable stir-fries. Why not try creamy cauliflower mash as an alternative to potato mash? Or make a super-good-for-you cauliflower pizza base for a healthier take on pizza? As well as being alkalising, cauliflower can help to fight cancer – it contains sulforaphane, a compound which could slow the growth of tumours (4).
It's all about balance
Don't go cutting acid-forming foods out of your diet entirely – they are still nutritious and packed with vitamins and minerals. Some of our favourite healthy foods are acid-forming, such as quinoa and chickpeas. But it's important to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure your body remains in its natural, alkaline state.
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