You may not realize it, but you—and many other humans today—may be coping with a problem not unlike the acid rain problem trees face. You’re probably familiar with acid rain and its ravages. Laden with high nitric and sulfuric acid content from activity such as burning fossil fuels, acid rain has a damaging effect on trees, harming their ability to withstand pests, disease, drought and cold. It may even prevent a plant from reproducing. To combat acidity and stay alive, the tree must pull minerals such as calcium and magnesium from the soil. But over time, the soil can become depleted of these minerals, reducing the tree’s chances of survival.
Modern humans are very much like those trees. When we eat a highly acid-forming diet, it’s comparable to creating acid rain in our bloodstreams. In the same way we’ve polluted our planet, we are unconsciously polluting our bodies, which are basically microcosms of the natural world. The main difference is that we are well aware that we are polluting Mother Earth, but few people recognize that their bodies may be suffering from internal pollution and acid waste. Fewer still recognize that excessive acidity has been linked to weight gain and obesity.
A Balancing Act
Our bodies must maintain an internal balance between acidity on one side of the spectrum and alkalinity on the other. This spectrum is known as the pH scale. Imagine that the pH scale is like a tug-of-war in your body. On one side is the acid team and on the other side is the alkaline team. The middle is neutral, which reads 7.0 on the scale between 0 (extremely acidic) and 14.0 (extremely alkaline). Much of what we eat and our lifestyle choices can tip the balance in favor of acidity and also contribute to our weight. Yet our blood needs to remain stable at about 7.365 (slightly alkaline) to maintain health.
The body has mechanisms in place to ensure that the blood, which feeds our brain and all our organs, glands and tissues, remains slightly alkaline. The body, in its infinite wisdom, has many ways to deal with acidity; one of the ways we’re concerned with is the tendency to store acid in fat cells to get it out of the blood quickly. Fat cells are our bodies’ buffer against acid as they have a natural affinity for acidic toxins and the acidic byproducts of metabolism. Fat is actually our bodies’ ally against acidic food choices (although I know more than a few people will find it hard to believe that fat is helpful to the body).
As an example, let’s look at one of the most acid-forming foods we eat: sugar. When we eat sugar, it breaks down into lactic acid in our bodies. In an effort to combat the acidity, our bodies go into preservation mode and use the fat in our diets and in our bodies to buffer and neutralize the acid. Our bodies then attempt to eliminate the fat, but if this is not possible, they will store it as fat deposits to keep the acid out of the bloodstream and away from organs, where it can do damage.
Kick the Acid Out
Our biggest battle in overcoming acidity is our addiction to what I call the “standard American diet.” (Think sugary foods, processed foods, meat, dairy, juices and soda.) Our second biggest battle, and one that goes hand in hand with our eating habits, is the stressful lifestyles many of us feel we cannot control. Poor food choices and stress push us toward the acidic side of the pH spectrum, causing our bodies to expend their resources on managing continuous—or chronic—acidity. (This imbalance isn’t the same thing as metabolic acidosis, a serious condition that can occur in relation to a pre-existing disease and that requires hospitalization and medical treatment.)
Vegetables are among our best alkaline choices. Almost all vegetables are alkaline. Potatoes are the exception—white, yellow, red or purple potatoes are quite acid-forming. Sweet potatoes, however, are alkalizing and can be easily incorporated into an alkaline diet. Eat just about any type of vegetable you can find. But whatever you do, don’t deep-fry it. Any of the alkalizing nutritional benefits of vegetables are lost when you add overheated, rancid, inflammatory oils such as those used in deep-frying. Instead, sauté, pan-fry in olive or coconut oil, steam, stir-fry, bake or roast vegetables. You can also eat them raw by grating, mincing or finely chopping them and adding them to salads, sandwiches or wraps, or by having them as a stand-alone salad with dressing. A little creativity goes a long way toward making food you will love.
You may be surprised to learn that most fruits are acidic. When I first started out in the natural health field more than two decades ago, I learned that fruits, while acidic, become alkaline in our bodies after we eat them. Well, that’s true of lemons, limes and tart cherries, but the sugar content in most fruits overrides the minerals and other substances that would normally help a food to be alkaline.
You can eat fruits, but focus on avocados, tomatoes, unsweetened coconut, grapefruits, lemons and limes. Also note that tomatoes, when cooked, become slightly acidic, but they are slightly alkaline when raw. Other than that, fruits are a “wise acid” food: Wise acids have many healthful nutrients and phytonutrients but should still be eaten sparingly if you’re trying to lose weight. The sugar content can cause wild blood sugar fluctuations that lead to fat storage.
Start balancing alkaline and acidic foods with this Signature Chicken Salad Recipe.
7 Easy Ways to Alkalize Yourself
1. Eat more veggies. Most vegetables are alkalizing to our bodies. Stock up on salad greens, beets, broccoli, celery, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic, spinach, sweet potatoes and yams.
2. Select great grains. Some whole grains are alkalizing. These include quinoa, spelt, buckwheat groats and millet. While there are many otherwise healthful whole-grain options, many are acid-forming.
3. Drink lots of purified water. Add pH drops, green powder (both available at health-food stores) or fresh lemon juice and drink the mixture 20 minutes before meals for optimum results.
4. Choose almond or coconut milk over dairy products. These are readily available in most supermarkets and health-food stores and are delicious as substitutions in baked goods or on their own.
5. Enjoy alkaline fruits. These include avocado, sour cherries, fresh coconut, grapefruit, tomatoes (cooked tomatoes are mildly acid-forming), lemons and limes. Other fruits are acid-forming, yet still have many health-boosting properties when eaten in moderation.
6. Eat more beans, peas and lentils. Try healthful minestrone soup or roasted red pepper hummus.
7. Try to eat a large salad daily. Make my signature salad on page 29 or another veggie-filled salad of your choice, topped with a healthful dressing or simply lemon juice and olive oil.
This article is adapted from 60 Seconds to Slim by Michelle Schoffro Cook. In this book, Cook shows readers how to get healthy from the inside out. Through her three-part program, readers will discover that the road to sustainable weight loss is through eliminating acid-laden foods in our diets and neutralizing their toxic side effects. Learn more about research from her book online. Order your copy of her book from the Mother Earth Living store.