May 16, 2023

The Alkaline Diet: pH Levels and Optimal Health

Can you balance pH levels with food? Insight of a vegan nutritionist & medical student

The pH level stands for potential of hydrogen, and it is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity/basicity of a substance, measured in terms of the concentration of hydrogen ions. The human body and blood are slightly alkaline, with an average pH level of 7,4.

Photo by Tara Winstead

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If you don’t already know, there is a pH scale ranging from numbers 1 to 14 measuring acidity or alkalinity.

The number 7 is the equilibrium; think of it as water, where numbers above 7 represent increasing alkalinity and numbers below 7 represent an increase in acidity.

The farther away from 7 you are, the more dangerous your substance gets, so to speak. Meaning if you see a bottle that says pH 1 or 2, or pH 13 or 14, it has the potential to chemically burn you and penetrate your skin, causing severe damage.

For our bodily pH levels, there are several ways to test and measure pH levels, such as with blood tests, urine tests, saliva tests, and home pH testing kits, but before we buy such kits, let’s have a look at the basics.

What is the pH level of our body?

Different parts/places in our body have different pH-level. An average estimate is 7,4.

  • Gastric acid in our stomach, for example, ranges from 1,0 to 3,0

meaning that it is highly acidic. Hence, people who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux have a feeling of burning and discomfort. You can experience the same burning feeling after you have vomited.

  • Blood, on the contrary, has an approximate level of 7,4,

because its main component is water.

  • Saliva ranges from 6,5 to 7,8
  • Pancreatic juice ranges from 7,5 to 8,8
  • Urine, on the other hand, has quite a large deviation ranging from 4,5 to 8,0,

depending on how much you drink and other factors.

An imbalance and change in pH levels may happen, but major, harmful changes are based on metabolic and respiratory disorders, like hyperventilating, not getting enough oxygen, kidney disease, liver failure, hormone imbalances and so on.

Is it important to maintain optimal pH value?

Absolutely! pH balance in the body is essential for optimal health. If the acidity becomes too high or alkalinity too low, it can lead to serious health issues listed below.

How do I maintain an optimal pH value?

You don’t. But your body does this automatically for you through various complex systems.

It is true that anything that we consume affects our body, but what we eat doesn’t much impact the pH levels of our bodily fluids like blood or urine because our body works hard to regulate and maintain the pH balance within a specific range.

Again, our food is being digested, absorbed and metabolised, and that does affect the pH in various systems, but the body has complex mechanisms in place to maintain the pH balance within specific healthy ranges, regardless of the pH of the foods we eat.

This isn’t any different from eating a lot of sugar in one go or drinking a litre of water in five minutes. Our body reacts and changes temporarily and then stabilises whatever causes an imbalance.

How do we know that our body regulates pH levels?

These are the symptoms of a pH Dysbalance:

Metabolic acidosis (too sour) & alkalosis (too alkaline):

  • Fatigue, no energy
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues (reflux, indigestion)
  • Muscle weakness, cramps

Respiratory acidosis (too sour) and alkalosis (too alkaline):

  • Shortness of breath, rapid or shallow breathing
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Chest pain, discomfort

Symptoms that can apply to both types:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hand tremors, muscle twitching, spasms, numbness, and tingling in the extremities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased susceptibility to infections, dry skin, rashes

As you can see, you’d certainly notice a pH dysbalance.

So what do we need to be healthy?

Instead of focusing on one aspect, a wide range of nutrient-dense foods prioritising whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins from legumes, fibre-rich foods, healthy fats, and staying adequately hydrated is what we should all aim for.

I want to follow an alkaline diet; is that healthy? And is a vegan diet more alkaline or acidic?

Luckily, a plant-based diet has mainly alkaline-forming effects when metabolised. Additionally, foods rich in minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, contribute to the body’s alkalinity.

Alkaline foods:

  • Fruits (citrus fruits, watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, bananas)
  • Vegetables (leafy greens, broccoli, celery, cucumber)
  • Root vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, beets)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans)
  • Nuts & seeds (almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Herbal teas (chamomile and peppermint)
  • Alkaline water (with added minerals)

Acidic foods:

  • Animal protein (such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products)
  • Processed foods (including refined grains, sugary snacks, and fast food)
  • Alcohol
  • Soft drinks and sugary beverages
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • High-sodium foods (processed meats, salty snacks)

Important note: The taste of a food does not mean that it is also being metabolised that way e. g. a citrus fruit could be alkaline-forming, although its taste is acidic, because of the minerals it contains. Same with coffee — although coffee might create discomfort and worsen your reflux, coffee could be metabolised as neither acidic nor alkaline.

Now if we have a look at this list and compare the alkaline-forming foods (whole foods, veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts…) with the acid-forming foods (animal-protein, processed foods, alcohol, soft drinks…), we can begin to understand why an alkaline diet is considered to be healthy.

Ways our diet affects the acidity and alkalinity in our body

When digesting or breaking down food, various metabolic by-products are generated, which can be either acidic, neutral, or alkaline and subsequently enter the organism’s acid-base balance.

While the pH of foods doesn’t significantly affect blood pH, it can influence the pH of urine. Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains promotes a more alkaline urine pH, which is generally considered beneficial.

The bottom line: The alkaline diet

emphasises the consumption of alkaline foods, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and grains, in order to maintain an alkaline pH level in the body.

It states that having an alkaline level in the body can help maintain healthy bodily functions. An alkaline level can help keep electrolytes balanced, regulate digestion, and reduce inflammation.

Research suggests that even though there has not been so much research done on alkaline diets and more insight is needed, it may be wise to follow one to lower the health risks and death rates associated with chronic diseases, which are becoming more common among older populations.

Tips on eating an alkaline diet

  • Eating more fruits and vegetables on an alkaline diet can help to balance the potassium-to-sodium ratio, which may have a positive effect on bone health, help to slow down muscle atrophy which occurs with ageing, and potentially decrease the risks associated with other chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and strokes.
  • A diet that is more alkaline can help to boost growth hormones, which may lead to beneficial results in terms of cardiovascular health, memory, and thinking ability.
  • An alkaline diet can lead to higher levels of magnesium in cells, which is necessary for a lot of enzyme processes. Additionally, having more magnesium available would activate vitamin D, resulting in many more benefits from the activities of vitamin D apocrine and exocrine systems.
  • A more alkaline environment could provide an advantage when it comes to some chemotherapy treatments that need a more basic pH, too.
  • Water, herbal teas, and infused water with lemon or cucumber are great choices. Hydrating effectively helps support the body’s natural detoxification processes and promotes pH balance.
  • Chronic stress can also disrupt pH balance. Engage in stress-reducing activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or hobbies you enjoy. Getting sufficient rest and quality sleep is also important for stress management and overall pH balance.

So to support optimal pH levels, focus on a well-rounded approach, proper hydration, stress management, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep.

If you’re still curious now about your pH levels, you can purchase pH test strips or kits to measure the pH of your saliva or urine.

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