When you read the words acidity and alkalinity, it’s easy to conjure up images of a chemistry lab.
But like lots of chemical terms, these two have a place in understanding how your body works as well. The amount of acidity in your body is rarely ignored, but some believe that a real acidity imbalance in the body can be the root of several different conditions. Hence, the popularity of the “alkaline diet.” This trendy diet exists in an effort to cut down on acidic foods and bring balance to the body. But this diet has become a point of contention.
While some think balancing the body’s acidity is a good approach to health, others aren’t so sure. Whether or not this is effective may vary from case to case or person to person. Read on to determine how acidity may affect your health, and whether or not you think it’s really worth pursuing.
What Determines Your Body’s pH Level?
Your pH level stands for “power of hydrogen,” and it is measured on a pH scale of 1 to 14. A level of 7 is considered to be neutral. And a pH level lower than 7 is considered to be acidic. A level greater than 7 is called basic or alkaline.1 As a note, there may be slight fluctuations throughout the day, but you generally want to hover around 7.2 or 7.3 for blood pH.2
Why Mention Blood pH Specifically?
Well, it’s important to understand that there is not just one single pH level in the body. Different body parts have different average levels. For example, the stomach is highly acidic. It shows up as around 2 to 3.5 on a pH scale.
And acids are important components of other parts of the body. A good example is the skin and its acid mantle. The skin is actually slightly acidic as well, with a pH of 5.5 on average.3
The acid mantle is a combination of sebum and sweat on the outer layer of the epidermis. This serves as the body’s first line of defense against –
- Harsh chemicals
Many beauty and skin products recognize this and try to accentuate the skin mantle’s natural function.4
What About Your Food?
When it comes to the alkaline diet, though, the most likely figures you’re going to see are urine pH or saliva. That’s simply because they’re the easiest to test. You can buy pH test strips from just about any pharmacy. Most of them come with a color-coded chart to try and determine your reading. As a rule of thumb, try to test multiple times over a period of a few weeks before taking any action. That’s how you’ll be able to get a complete picture.5
Science has proven that what you eat plays a role in the pH of your urine. This is primarily due to the fact that your kidneys regulate urine acidity. However, if too many acidic foods are eaten, it could be too much for your kidneys to handle. This, in theory, leads to higher pH levels and issues.6
But, if you look at the major issues stemming from a pH that is too acidic, the first thing you will read about is acidosis. That’s when the lungs and kidneys become overwhelmed – this can lead to a slightly more acidic pH. And while this can be serious and even life-threatening, the situation doesn’t stem from food.
But there are different types of acidosis. Respiratory acidosis can be caused by chest deformities, injuries, and issues with your lung health. Metabolic acidosis can be caused by kidney issues, severe dehydration, and sometimes certain types of poisoning.7
So, can the Alkaline Diet help here?
The Alkaline Diet Explained
The alkaline diet revolves around how the body is theorized by some to process food. The concept is that when the body processes food, it leaves behind byproducts called “ash”. And “ash” can be either acidic or alkaline.
For example, a lemon is an acidic food, with a pH of 2. However, it is broken down into an alkaline substance and give urine a basic pH. Therefore, by the diet’s guidelines, they are alkaline. In essence, the alkaline diet focuses on lowering consumption of foods that make your urine more acidic.8
The good news for vegans is that most acidic foods (under these standards) are already off the menu. These include animal proteins and whole dairy products. However, there are many other foods to look out for. These include fried and fatty foods, breads high in yeast and wheat, and sugary snacks and drinks. Some also suggest trying to lower acid consumption by quitting smoking, regulating alcohol intake, and avoiding drug abuse.9
Also, several vegan favorites also happen to top the list of alkalizing foods. These include green vegetables like broccoli and kale, raw almonds, and sea vegetables.10 You may be noticing how a lot of these tips are starting to sound like standard good health practice. This may be part of a reason why the alkaline diet became so prominent.
The Alkaline Diet vs Science
Looking for scientific backing for the alkaline diet? Unfortunately, there’s not much to work with. Some have done preliminary studies, and found some potential.11 This makes it difficult to determine whether or not a diet can really alter your pH for the better after all.
Moreover, there are other acidic-food related myths that have been dispelled. For example, some alkaline diet proponents believe that acidic foods lead to bone health issues. The theory is that the blood takes alkaline minerals from your bones to make up for the acid lacking in the foods you’re eating. This theory has two issues: ignoring the kidney completely and forgetting how loss of protein collagen causes bone problems to begin with.12,13
At this point, it’s clear that diet doesn’t affect pH in a meaningful way. But, there’s a positive too. Unwittingly, many people who start eating an alkaline diet are also adopting a plant-based diet. And plant-based diets can support the body in a variety of ways.14
For example, potassium is a mineral that most people are missing but is readily available in many plant sources. Strong potassium levels can support heart health.15 In addition, many plant foods are rich sources of dietary fiber, which helps in smoother digestion.16 So, eating alkaline could mean eating more plant-based foods – and naturally, that can mean better health.
The Body’s pH In Review
Ultimately, the biggest mark against using the alkaline diet to fix your pH levels to support health is that there isn’t enough science to back it up.
But, even though it seems to be based on misunderstandings of how pH works in your body, it may not be a bad idea to adopt some of its principles.
Many of the staples of the alkaline diet mirror the staples of proper plant-based diets. As a result, while you can’t really affect your pH levels, you could end up supporting your health anyway – just not in the ways that you thought.