There are many ways to approach building a healthy well balanced nutrition plan. Over the years I’ve referenced choosing nutrient-dense, whole, real foods and spent much time pointing out anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich foods we would do well to consume on a regular basis in order to help a build strong and healthy body.
However, today I’d like to look at how balancing our consumption of foods based on their net acid or alkaline output is definitely yet another valuable tool to use as a guideline when choosing what to eat and drink daily.
Why should you care about an acid-alkaline balance?
Once digested, food presents itself to the kidneys as either an acid forming compound or an alkaline forming compound. It is the kidneys job to buffer the acid compounds, which is done by taking minerals and amino acids from the alkaline compounds.
If enough alkaline foods are not eaten, the kidneys work at any cost to keep a stable pH balance – so they might then ‘steal’ minerals and amino acids from within the body (at a cost to you). Of notable concern is the ‘stealing’ of calcium and phosphorus from the bones, and glutamine from skeletal muscle.
According to this excellently detailed Precision Nutrition article, the results of a chronic overly acidic diet may be as follows:
- Decreased growth factors
- Decreased uptake and release of oxygen
- Growth hormone resistance
- Loss of muscle mass
- Muscular stiffness
- Joint soreness
- Mild hypothyroidism
- Higher levels of blood cortisol
- Enzymatic changes in cells
- Altered regulation of metabolites and minerals
Decreased growth factor and growth hormone resistance mean you won’t recover well. Decreased uptake and release of oxygen will negatively impact your speed and performance in tempo runs, intervals, and races. And feeling tired, achy and sore all the time doesn’t help anyone. Clearly, eating an overly acidic diet is not going to be good for your running performance and recovery, let alone your long-term health!
Along the same lines, according to this article published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, eating more alkaline foods may benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting, mitigate chronic diseases such as heart disease, increase growth hormone, improve memory and cognition, activate vitamin D and improve hormonal health. The authors conclude it would be prudent to consider an alkaline diet to reduce morbidity and morality of chronic diseases.
What foods are acid and which are alkaline?
This study published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, by Remer and Manz, resulted in a chart that calculated the potential renal acid load (PRAL) of selected foods. Therefore we have an accurate and scientifically-based read on which foods exert an acid output versus a base (alkaline) output. If you’re curious about certain foods, you can find the entire chart listed here.
Essentially, it comes down to this:
Alkaline (base) foods:
- leafy greens
- beetroot juice, orange juice and lemon juice
- red wine
- green tea, herbal tea, hot chocolate, coffee and dark beer are all mildly alkaline
- milk and yogurt are mildly acidic
- soft drinks
- artificial sweeteners
- grains (including wheat, barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, rice, millet, pumpernickel, all cereals)
- nuts (except hazelnuts)
- anything made with flour (including pastries, cookies, muffins, cakes, bread)
- pure sugar
I’ve often seen a vegan diet recommended for those looking to alkalize their diet. However, this article published in Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease show it’s not necessary to completely remove any acidic foods (however reduction will likely be required), but simply to ensure they are balanced with alkaline ones. Therefore if meat is being eaten in combination with enough vegetables and fruits, the dietary acid load is substantially lowered without excessive protein restriction. For example, this study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows a pre-agrigulteral manner of eating to be net-alkaline (Paleo type eating including meats).
Modern Western society tends to eat an acidogenic diet according to this 2003 study published in the American Journal of Renal Physiology. It’s to our advantage to move toward an acid-alkaline balance. To make things simple, aim to have about half of your meals and snacks consist of fruits and veggies, and be liberal in your use of herbs and spices in preparing meals.
When arranging a meal on my plate, I aim to fill at least half of it, if not two thirds of it, with veggies that are sautéed or dressed with herbs and spices. Snacks are pairings such as apple (alkaline) plus almonds (acidic); or a green smoothie (alkaline) with smoked salmon nuggets (acidic); or cut veggies (alkaline) with hummus (acidic)… You get the idea.
Looking at the acid or alkaline net effect of a food is only one tool among many for building a healthy nutrition plan. Clearly there are other areas of great importance to keep in mind also, particularly as oils and sugar are neutral – and the negative effects of sugar and processed cooking oils are well established, even if they don’t effect acid-alkaline balance! But when it comes to choosing foods based on their alkaline or acidic net effect, balance is definitely where it’s at.
To deliciously healthy food and stronger faster running… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN