“An acidified organism is a sick organism” – at least that is what supporters of alkaline diets say. Manufacturers of supplements or water-analysing devices are outperforming in formulating new theses concerning the impact of an acidifying diet on our health. They start with headaches, ill health and lack of energy. Finally, they scare the reader a little and make them realise that ‘bad’ food can lead to many serious diseases, such as kidney failure. In all of this, it is easy to get lost and let yourself be fooled. Of course, there is a grain of truth in every piece of information, no matter how ridiculous it would be.
Table of content
- Acidity, alkalinity – what does that even mean?
- Acid-base balance – what is it and how does it work?
- Acid and alkaline products
- Does diet matter?
- Ways to deacidify the body
Acidity, alkalinity – what does that even mean?
To understand the basics, we will go back for a moment to the chemistry lesson from primary school. Each of us remembers the horizontal axis, on which the number 7 is marked in the middle (photo 1). This is the pH scale, where 7 is assigned to neutral substances. On the left side, i.e. for pH less than 7, we are dealing with acids, and on the right side – with bases. Therefore, we already know that a substance can have an acidic, alkaline or neutral reaction, and whether something is slightly acidic or slightly alkaline in the whole origin will not matter, so we do not have to divide our axis further.
Now it is necessary to move to a slightly more demanding level of education, namely high school or college. The concept of body pH appears here. The different organs in our bodies differ in their environment. Low pH (acidic) can be observed, for example, in the stomach or vaginal discharge, even the skin has an acidic pH. The alkaline reaction, however, is for example bile or pancreatic secretion. Therefore, we can see that the pH is relatively constant and characteristic for the given fluids/organ. A number of mechanisms are responsible for its behaviour, which in a healthy person works perfectly.
When we talk about ‘acidification’ of the body we often mean changes in blood and interstitial fluid. They have a pH between 7.35 and 7.45 and any fluctuations below or above these values can be dangerous to human health and even life. That is why the acid-base balance is so important. Such mechanisms as the blood and tissue buffer system (bicarbonate, haemoglobin, protein and phosphate) are involved in its maintenance.
Acid-base balance – what is it and how does it work?
Acidosis or alkalosis can actually occur in the body. Both lesions have two subtypes each, respiratory and metabolic acidosis or alkalosis.
Respiratory acidosis occurs when the excretion of carbon dioxide through the lungs is disturbed, e.g. when a patient suffers from cardiopulmonary insufficiency. The partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood then increases. The mechanism for compensation is, among other things, an increase in the concentration of bicarbonates in blood. Metabolic acidosis occurs when acidic metabolic products such as ketoacids or urea accumulate in the blood. This is when more frequent breathing is needed to get rid of too much CO2.
The principle is to reverse the situations described above. In the case of respiration, we are dealing with accelerated breathing, in the case of metabolic breathing, with increased concentration of bicarbonates and loss of hydrogen and potassium ions, e.g. due to vomiting or diarrhoea.
The above examples are quite extreme. They show that the ‘alkaline’ diet and its supposed improvement in well-being is not relevant to those more serious bodily disorders, where effective regulatory mechanisms or appropriate action by doctors are a condition for reversing the situation.
Acid and alkaline products
The matter with food is quite complicated. There is a division into acidic and basic products, but the list differs according to the author’s vision. There is, however, a parameter which may allow doubts to be dispelled on this issue.
We are talking about the PRAL coefficient, or Potential Renal Acid Load., It was created on the basis of the influence of the consumption of individual products on the pH of urine, and thus on the potential ability to load the kidneys with acids. It takes into account the content of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and proteins in foods. A negative PRAL value means for us that the product has alkaline and a positive PRAL value means that it has acid-forming properties.
Scientists say that in order to maintain the correct urine pH, products with a total PRAL of 60 to -10 should be taken daily. In practice, this does not mean that we have to follow something like a ‘deacidification diet’.
What is the division of products into those with a positive and negative ratio? Alkaline products are almost all vegetables and fruit and their preparations, honey, sugar, margarine and vegetable oils, coffee and alcohol, soybean and products made from it. Acidifying products include meat, fish and dairy products, butter, cereal products, eggs, coca-cola and nuts. From more interesting observations it is worth adding that sugar, honey and milk are closer to 0, so their alkaline or acidogenic potential is small.
Does diet matter?
If food can actually acidify or deacidify, is there any way to ‘deacidify’ the body? If we look at it in a 0-1 way, then definitely not.
Diet influences the change in blood pH almost imperceptibly. It can increase or decrease it by as little as 0.01-0.02. Much larger changes are observed in urine (about 1), but the measurement of its pH does not really have to say anything about our diet.
It is true that a diet rich in acid-forming products can contribute to a higher risk of kidney stone formation. But, on the other hand, we have spinach or rhubarb, which, while having an alkalising effect, excessive consumption also leads to oxalic acid stones. Of course, this is a great simplification, but it shows that nothing is really just black and only white. Excessive food with high PRAL also increases the risk of hypertension, because we supply little potassium.
A diet rich in acidifying products can also increase the risk of many other diseases. Studies show that the presence of high PRAL foods can contribute to the development of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
There is also a lot of speculation in the context of cancer, but it remains just speculation. For there is no research on this as yet.
A lot of noise has also grown around osteoporosis, because an acidifying diet flushes out calcium from the bones. There is no need to look for studies strictly devoted to the influence of acid-forming products, because vegans, who have a bone mineral density 6% lower than omnivores, are a perfect example of the falsity of this thesis. So what of it? In the few paragraphs above we find information that plant products are alkaline or, as we prefer, deacidifying. We can also be calm about calcium. The acid-forming diet is a diet rich in protein, and this increases the absorption of calcium so well that too much calcium is simply removed. It does not come from bones, as isotopic studies have shown.
Ways to deacidify the body
We have come to the conclusion that the diet does not affect acidification or alkaliation or, to be more precise, it does not affect the way we would like it to. And what about your well-being after a deacidification diet?
The problem lies elsewhere. When we look through the list of acid- and alkaline products, we see one very important thing. We do not make a healthy diet from products with high PRAL, because the most important ones, namely vegetables and fruit, are missing. As recommended, we should consume a minimum of 500 grams, and preferably half a plate should be made up of plant products.
So a deacidification diet will be nothing more than a diet based on high fruit and vegetable consumption. These products are a real vitamin bomb, rich in minerals, polyphenols and other active substances. If we have not eaten ‘green’ eagerly before, the effects of improving health and well-being can be seen.
Another matter is the excessive demonisation of acidifying products. If we do not consume them, we may have other ailments. Urine alkalisation itslef will not have a beneficial effect on the state of the genitourinary system. However, we remind you that the diet does not have to play any role in changes in urine pH. Among the foods with positive PRAL we have, for example, nuts, which are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and have a health promoting effect on the body. We can also find fermented milk products that support microbial and immune systems. The negative PRAL, for example, has sugar, which we would not want to see too often in a healthy diet.
So if we are afraid that we eat too much sour things and the next articles we read only make us more afraid, we can use a simple procedurę. Let us try to replace 1/3 of what we eat with vegetables and less with fruit. We can also bet on a vegan diet, but let’s not give up on nuts and pods, because this is an important source of fats and proteins. Let us eat 4 or 5 meals a day, at equal intervals, and let us give up processed products and those rich in simple carbohydrates, high GIs and saturated fats. When we switch from eating outdoors to healthy meals at home, we will notice better results than on the most amazing “miracle diets”. Balance is the most important thing, so just don’t overdo it with products from any of the groups.
We only recommend water analysers or ready-made alkaline water if you have too much money.
There is no scientific evidence that an alkaline diet has any health benefits. Often, its recommendations are so drastic that we are quickly being pushed into nutritional deficiencies. Therefore, as with everything, moderation is important. We already know that the diet does not acidify or alkalize in any significant way, and we should use products from both groups in order to ensure that our nutrition is as healthy and balanced as possible. Deacidifying products are no better than acidifying products, but we should consume more vegetables and fruit. Products with positive PRAL are not unhealthy, but we should not exaggerate with red meat and other, rich-fat zoonotic products.
Instead of looking for further miraculous ways to improve health, let us start from scratch and change basic habits for better and healthier ones. Let us simply believe in a healthy diet.