Food Balance: How To Achieve Optimum pH Levels

Roger French | 29 Apr 2020
You may have heard about acid/alkaline or pH balance on your health travels, but did you know that everything from healthy cells to cancer cells is affected by getting this balance right? If you can get the balance right (and keep it right), it is probably the biggest single step you can take for your nutritional health.

Integral to achieving this is the bloodstream. It is strongly buffered to be slightly alkaline at close to pH 7.4, and it works hard to maintain this level for optimal cellular health. However, tissue fluids can vary in their acidity, and if they are forced to deviate too far from the optimum (being close to neutral), our bodies can suffer. A body that is very acidic, and therefore acidosis, can be prone to disease.

What Actually Is ‘pH’?  

Before I continue, it is important to understand what the pH scale is. The pH scale measures how acidic or how alkaline a substance is. It ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being pure acid and 14 pure alkali. This means that 7 is neutral. We are at our best when our pH is around 7.

How Does pH Relate To Food?

With the science lesson out of the way, let’s look at how what we put into our mouths affects the pH balance. Foods are either acid-forming or alkaline-forming. Broadly speaking, foods that put the body into an alkaline state are fresh, ripe fruits and green, yellow, red and blue vegetables. Foods that increase acidity are pretty much all the rest – meat, cheese, eggs, nuts, legumes, seeds, grain foods (bread, pasta, rice, cakes, etc.), refined sugar, coffee, tea and so on.

The explanation is simple enough. alkaline-forming foods contain a predominance of the alkaline minerals: potassium, magnesium and calcium. Once metabolism (build-up and breakdown of substances) has run its course, these minerals increase your body’s alkalinity. The acid-forming foods do the opposite. Their leading minerals are the acidic minerals: chlorine, phosphorus and sulphur, which increase your body’s acidity.

Alkaline Forming Foods

One of the greatest mistakes in our diets is the assumption that acid fruits, such as citrus, pineapples and tomatoes, are acid-forming. Would you believe they are in fact alkaline-forming? During metabolism (processing in the body), their weak organic acids are broken down to release energy and the acidic end-product, carbon dioxide, is exhaled, leaving a residue of alkaline minerals. The body gets rid of the acidic component and is left with the alkaline. So, believe it or not, acid fruits, like other fruits, are alkaline-forming.

A notable example of this is lemons. All you need to do is feel the sting of a drop if it gets into a cut to realise how very acidic lemon juice is, yet they are extremely alkaline-forming. On the flip side is meat. Before digestion, meat is alkaline and after metabolism most meats are very acid-forming.

Fruits and vegetables have high water content, so we need more of them to balance concentrated foods. Fruit and vegetables should make up three-quarters to four-fifths of your total food intake (by weight), while concentrated foods that supply protein, carbohydrate and fat should make up one-quarter to one-fifth.

Most Australians consume nowhere near this proportion of fruits and vegetables. This lack can easily pave the way for illnesses ranging from inflammatory conditions, like colds and flu, to degenerative illnesses like arthritis, osteoporosis, artery disease and even cancer.

Tips For Your Plate

Fruit & Veg

Abundant fresh, ripe, in-season fruits and vegetables (green, yellow, red and blue varieties) should make up between three-quarters and four-fifths of your plate for each meal.

Why not have a large vegetable salad and/or lightly steamed vegetables as the basis of one or two meals every day? This is around 350–700 grams in total. Bulky vegetables and fruits contain very little fat, protein or carbohydrate. Instead, they flood your body with minerals, vitamins, fibre, carotenoids, flavonoids, other antioxidants and hundreds of phytochemicals.

How Much Protein?

Depending on your size, have around 80–150 grams of protein daily. Protein sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, cheese and flesh foods (flesh foods not recommended though).

Choosing a plant-based diet automatically shifts your pH closer to a more natural balance which I consider to be nutritionally superior. However, some people are unable to adapt to it after a lifetime of eating meat, and will require some protein from animal sources.

Keep Animal Products To A Minimum 

Those who do eat meat can still live longer, happier and disease-free if they do these two very simple things:

(1) Be sure not to over indulge on protein from any source by overstepping the required amount of 80-150 grams;

(2) Reward your body with an abundance of vegetables to compensate for the lack of fibre and minerals in meats.

I do recognise that people aiming for a plant-based diet may have difficulty adjusting to plant foods. Indeed, these people may compensate by including moderate amounts of deep-sea fish or free-range, organic white or red meats once or twice a week in their diets.

Make The Switch To Plant-Based

You might think that a plant-based diet is purely just that – plants. But no, a plant-based diet may be strict vegetarian (vegan) or it may include small amounts of unprocessed cheese and free-range eggs (lacto-ovo-vegetarian). Cheese and eggs can provide some nutritional ‘insurance’, especially against a possible deficiency in vitamin B12. B12 is crucial for any diet, and its levels should be checked periodically, especially by those on a plant-based diet.

Carbohydrate-Rich Foods

Unrefined carbohydrates – starchy and sugary foods – are a good energy source. They are also bursting with minerals, vitamins and fibre.

Starchy carbohydrates include the starchy vegetables: potatoes, pumpkin and sweet potatoes; and foods made from grains, predominantly wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, millet and buckwheat.

Concentrated sugary carbohydrates are dried fruits and sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, etc.

If the above can be followed as a guide ach day along with exercise you will be well on your way to better health through balancing your intake between alkaline and acidic foods.

About Roger French

Roger is the Health Director at Natural Health Society of Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that was established in 1960. Recognising that prevention is far better than cure, the Society shows through simple, drug-free, lifestyle modifications how to prevent illness and early ageing. 

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