Food pH : The Chemistry of the Food We Eat and Why It Matters

We all know that fresh, organic vegetables and fruits are GOOD for us, and sugary, fatty, processed foods are BAD. But why are the GOOD foods good and the BAD foods bad? A lot of it comes down to acids and bases: pH.

In chemistry, pH (short for potentiometric hydrogen ion concentration) is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Pure water has a pH of 7; it’s considered neutral. Substances that have a pH below 7 are considered acidic, and those above pH 7 are alkaline or basic. Our body, when healthy and balanced, has a pH of 7.35-7.45. In this slightly alkaline state, the body is able to heal itself; metabolic, enzymatic, immunologic, and repair mechanisms function optimally. If our body pH drops below 6.8 or rises above 7.8, the cells stop functioning and the body dies.

Foods, when metabolized, break down to form alkaline or acidic elements. Think of pH as a product of ‘canceling out’. If we have an equal amount of acidic and alkaline elements, we come out at neutral, or pH 7. Because our bodies function best at pH 7.35-7.45, we need a proportionately higher intake of alkaline-producing foods.

In general, vegetables, roots, tubers, legumes, and fruits are alkalinizing in the body; meat, dairy, and sugar are acidifying. (Whether a food produces acidic or alkaline elements after being metabolized isn’t always intuitive: acidic limes and lemons (citric acid) are metabolized to alkaline bicarbonate. Animal products, slightly basic when ingested, are metabolized to form acidic elements in the body.) Food charts can help us identify which foods are alkalinizing and which are acidifying, but a general rule of thumb is this: If the food comes from close to the ground, it’s generally alkalinizing. Those that come further away from the ground are acidifying.

If we ingest large quantities of acidic forming foods, like fats, sugars, and processed foods, our bodies will try to restore equilibrium (raise the pH) by borrowing minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium, from the tissues and bones in an attempt to “buffer” or neutralize the blood pH. If this continues over a long period of time, the tissues become mineral deficient. The body no longer has the tools it needs to alkalinize the body and the body enters a state of acidosis. When the body becomes acidic, it can no longer heal itself. Vitamins and minerals cannot be assimilated and energy production becomes inadequate. The body’s ability to repair cellular damage becomes impaired, as does its ability to detoxify itself of heavy metals. Many chronic and degenerative diseases result, including, but not limited to, cardiovascular damage, diabetes, immune deficiency, acceleration of free radical damage, hormonal problems, osteoporosis and joint pain, low energy and chronic fatigue, yeast/fungal overgrowth, depression, and symptoms of malnutrition (to name just a few).

A food chart is a great way to visualize where the foods you eat fall in the pH range. (A good one is: ( ) To maintain health, be sure your diet includes at least 60% alkaline foods (left-most columns) and 40% acidic foods. To restore health, the ratio should be adjusted to 80% alkaline, 20% acidic to allow your body to rebuild your mineral reserves. DON’T cut all acidic foods from your diet; some acidic foods are necessary to maintain health and to get an adequate intake of protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients. DO avoid refined sugars/salts, high saturated fats, caffeine, and highly processed foods. Whenever possible, balance low-acidic foods with high-alkaline foods and avoid the right-most, high-acid foods.

You can test your blood pH indirectly by monitoring your saliva and/or urine pH. The pH of your saliva is a good indicator of the pH of your extracellular fluids (although generally slightly more acidic than blood), but keep in mind that it can be affected by factors such as bacteria in your mouth, or food/toothpaste residue. Measure your saliva one hour pre- or two hours post-meals. Your saliva should generally measure in the 6.4 to 6.8 pH range; after meals, it should rise to the 7.5 range. The pH of your urine is indicative of the processes in your body that are trying to maintain optimum pH. Because these processes can vary greatly throughout the day, you might also notice a wide variance in its pH, but in general, it should measure in the 6.0 to 7.0 range. You can use pH Hydrion test paper to test the pH of both saliva and urine; more yellow indicates lower pH (acidic) while bluer indicates higher (alkaline) pH. You should be able to purchase the paper through a pharmacy, health food store, or online. Take frequent measurements of saliva and/or urine pH and look at your averages rather than any one specific number. Also remember that it might take several months of measurements before you see any dietary changes reflected.

You should also be aware that stress, emotional-upset, and physical activity (too little or too much) can also contribute to acid formation in the body. So be sure to incorporate some relaxation and breathing exercises into your day while you’re planning your veggie-rich food menu.

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Tags: acid, acidic, alkaline, alkalizing, base, basic, pH

Comment by Pat Robinson on March 28, 2010 at 12:59pm
Thanks for posting! I just featured it on Facebook. :-)
Comment by Missy Willis on March 28, 2010 at 2:30pm
Great post, Shelia! Thanks for laying it all out in such an easy to read (and digest) format :) Is there a way for us to test our ph levels?
Comment by Sheila Rumble on March 28, 2010 at 5:28pm
You can test saliva and/or urine using pH Hydrion test paper. Saliva should be pH ~6.4-6.8 and urine pH ~6.0-7.0. I updated the post w/ addt information. :)
Comment by Pat Robinson on March 28, 2010 at 5:43pm
I think the little ph test strips are probably at the local pharmacy, CVS, Walgreens. If not, they are only about 8 online.



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