Acid and Alkaline
Understanding Acid and Alkaline for Good Health
Alkalizing and Alkaline are Not the Same
If you've been wondering about your body's pH lately, you're not alone. Countless articles and books have been churned out in recent years on the subject of acidity and alkalinity, and frankly, it's confusing.
Most authors warn against the dangers of high acid(which means low pH), and provide a list of foods that acidify, and a list of foods that alkalize. Here is where the confusion starts to appear. Some lists contradict other lists. Some authors even provide a third list, which they acknowledge contains foods and beverages that they are not certain of. While generally it is agreed that fruits and vegetables are alkalizing, and that grains, dairy, and meat are acidifying, there are frequent discrepencies among different authors.
The key to sorting this out is in knowing that alkalizing is not the same as alkaline, and acidic is not the same as acidifying.
If you have seen these food-type charts, you will have noticed that there is near universal agreement that citrus fruits are alkalizing. Citrus fruit is acidic, lemons and limes having a pH of around 2(pH 7 is neutral). How could they be alkalizing? Let's try to keep it simple. Your stomach is an organ that is designed to produce acid, when needed, to break down proteins and other nutrients before they enter the small intestine. The small intestine is designed to be alkaline, so as to break down the nutrients even further to facilitate absorption into the bloodstream for transport to the cells.
Stomach acid(primarily Hydrochloric acid) has a pH of around 1. Your stomach is programmed to try to maintain a pH of around 2 to facilitate its phase of the digestive process. Foods that are whole and natural, unadulterated, and high in acid(like lemons, kiwis, grapefruit, etc.) are easy to digest because they cause no stress to the stomach. Little or no additional acid is needed for digestion, and consequently, less neutralizing is required in the small intestine.
Problems occur when "alkalizing" and "alkaline" are used interchangeably. Alkaline foods and beverages call for more stomach acid, and may contribute to acidification of body fluids and tissues down the line. But eating more alkaline foods is just what many authors are recommending, with dangerous consequences. Alkalizing the stomach puts extra stress on the entire system. Failure to break down proteins and fats in the stomach(often through the use of 'anti-acids') is considered by many experts in the field of nutrition to be a leading contributor to the development of colorectal cancer. Disrupting the acid balance in the stomach is bound to have negative effects, and especially if it becomes a regular routine.
So stop taking 'antacids', or at least cut back on their use. Stop eating foods that cause indigestion and 'heartburn'. Some food combinations may be upsetting your stomach. Listen to your body as you gently try to shift your diet toward more fruits and vegetables. These foods are not only more easily digested, but they contain vital nutrients, including anti-oxidants, vitamins, enzymes, and natural immune-boosting factors. Meats, whole grains, and dairy products can be good food, but your diet should not be overloaded with hard to digest combinations. If you have a food allergy, work around it. It is possible to stress(acidify) your whole body by eating the wrong food. Eating over-processed, highly-sweetened foods is always a challenge for your digestive tract, and, ultimately, for the cells that need proper nutrition, assimilation, and elimination.
And please, don't listen to the "experts" who warn that distilled water is bad for you because it has a slightly lower than neutral pH. Distilled water is the purest form of water and the easiest for your body to assimilate. Distilled water does absorb gasses from the air, including oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc. All forms of water absorb gasses, including ocean water, tap water, dirty water, and clean water. Distilled water is not unique in this respect. Just because tap water has tiny rocks in it that buffer the pH does not mean that it is healthier. Don't forget: gastric fluid must remain around a pH of 2 for proper processing. That is why it may take hours to process a big meal of meat(could be 4 hours or more!) and trigger the opening of the pyloric valve into the small intestine. Veggies and fruits take a small fraction of that time to process. Give your stomach a break, once in a while! Fruits and vegetables are also rich in the minerals that will be needed by the small intestine to achieve its alkaline balance. Distilled water and beverages made with distilled water are a great way to wash them down without messing up your stomach's pH.
Admittedly, this summary could be termed an over-simplification. But it is a dangerous over-simplification to catagorize foods and beverages as "acidifying" and "alkalizing". And it is dangerous to over-emphasize "alkalizing" and the over-consumption of alkaline foods and beverages. It is understandable, though, why many have been confused or misled. When you see all the charts that claim that fruits and vegetables and other good foods are "alkalizing", it makes you want to "alkalize", right? But alkalizing is not the same as alkaline. When you see the charts that use "alkalizing" and "alkaline" as synonyms, or "acidifying" and "acid" as synonyms, there is a problem. They are not the same thing. Some are even urging the purchase of expensive systems to "ionize" or "alkalize" your drinking water. This is a waste of money and could have a negative impact on your health.
Eating the right foods at the right time is a time-honored procedure for healthy living. Check out the Weston Price Foundation for some fascinating studies proving this point. Dr. Price, a dentist, evaluated the diets of twins who were separated and exposed to the low quality "western" diet for one twin and a "natural" diet of native, whole foods for the other. His photos of the outcomes are stunning. His research is an enormous victory for the common-sense approach to diet and nutrition.
Junk food is hard to digest, and so is usually put in the "acidifying" catagory. But junk food causes harm in more than one way. It may be complicated, but it is also common sense. Processing strips vitamins, enzymes, and minerals from food. Chemical additives and preservatives have a direct effect in damaging cells by initiating the "oxygen free radical" cascade of ill effects. The ill effect of sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, is well documented and deserves attention. Taken all together, the effects of sugars, processing, trans-fats, etc., ingested in the form of "junk food", is to create a junk body. The old adage that "you are what you eat" has never been invalidated. Things have gotten more complicated, of course, with new insights into genetic defects, chemical exposure, stress, anger, sleep patterns, etc., but the cumulative effects of a bad diet are still, and always, bad health.
Another serious consequence of acidifying your body by eating the wrong foods is demineralizing. Your bloodstream must supply needed minerals to the intestine to create an alkaline environment; if the bloodstream needs more than the diet supplies, it will take it from muscle and bone. This can lead to fatigue, muscle cramping, osteoporosis, and other disfunctions. Good food sources of minerals include vegetables, dairy products, and meat. Tap water may have minerals, but they are not readily absorbed.
We will probably never know it all about health and nutrition, digestion and elimination, and related topics. Meanwhile, the acid-alkaline theories are just not very helpful. Their promoters must have something else on their agenda. Our bodies are marvelously designed to maintain a range of pH values that is just what is needed. As we age, it is true, the system does not work as effectively, but with extra attention to wholesome food, activities, and a few supplements, we will muddle along somehow. Organic apple cider vinegar is a great supplement for the older stomachs among us.
Our bodies truly do some wonderful things to keep us healthy. Let's do what we can to stay out of the way.