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Do alkaline diets work? (Part 2 of 2)

Do alkaline diets work? (Part 2 of 2)

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Part 2 of 2: Managing Acid-Base Balance in the Body

This post is part two of an exploration of acid-alkaline balance, its importance in health, and its response to dietary choices. Check out part 1 to learn about subclinical metabolic acidosis and the serious health conditions it may be associated with.

Managing and measuring acid-base balance in the body

One of the most obvious ways to manage the acid-alkaline load of the body is through the diet. But again, controversy continues between understanding the true power of foods to alter pH within the tissues.

There is, however, a clinical study that clearly shows a direct correlation between animal protein consumption and bone fractures. In this study, women who consumed more than five portions of red meat a week were found to be at increased risk of low bone density and subsequent bone fracture. This is likely due at least in part to the higher content of acid forming sulfur-containing amino acids found in animal proteins.[1] (See the section on osteoporosis above for a review of how acid content weakens the bones.) This study is but one of a wide range of studies suggesting that diet affects the body’s acid-alkaline balance.[2],[3]

The pH of foods or drinks does not directly reduce metabolic acids and building alkalinity in the body.

However, this is where some confusion may lie. Classical understanding is that the food ash pH may have a direct effect on body tissue pH and thus alkalize acid tissues. What’s important to remember, however, is that the pH of foods or drinks does not directly reduce metabolic acids and building alkalinity in the body. Rather, it’s the content of alkalizing minerals (electrolytes) and buffering components such as bicarbonates or hydroxides that neutralize acid. For example, lemons, apple cider vinegar, and carbonated water all have acid pH but research suggests these liquids have an alkalizing effect on body tissues.

Traditional discussion is often (misguidedly) centered on the acid- or alkaline-forming nature of food ash. A contemporary (and more accurate) understanding about the effects of different foods and drinks on the acid-alkaline balance in the body tissues, however, assigns scores based on potential renal acid load (PRAL). This provides a simple way to determine the acid load of individual foods and entire meals.

PRAL is a more accurate measure of the effects of foods on body’s pH than comparing food ash. These measurements assess an estimate of the production of endogenous acid (acid produced in the body) that exceeds the level of alkali produced for given amounts of individual foods. This method of calculation shows that under controlled conditions, acid loads can be reliably estimated from diet composition.

PRAL is a more accurate measure of the effects of foods on body’s pH than comparing food ash.

The concept of PRAL calculation is physiologically based and experimentally validated in healthy adults. It also considers different intestinal absorption rates and bioavailability of individual minerals and sulfur-containing proteins. It also takes into account the amount of sulfate produced from the metabolized sulfur in proteins, food composition, and the obligatory diet-independent organic acid losses.[4]

In layman’s terms, this now means that researchers can analyze a food and, based on its components, determine what the true acid or base load on the body will be. Simply speaking, a positive PRAL score means a food contributes to the acid load (not optimal for health) whereas a negative PRAL score means a food has an alkaline (beneficial) affect in the body. The goal, then, is to consume more foods with negative PRAL scores. See a list of common foods and their PRAL scores here.

Boost your juice!

Some of of the best ways to alkalize the body is to regularly drink half a liter (around 2 cups) of fresh green juice daily and eat fresh greens like spinach, kale, cucumber, celery, and parsley. Green juices and foods deliver alkalinity in the form of a variety of alkalizing mineral compounds, and are also rich in a myriad of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

But here is the surprise: the pH of all fresh green juices, which deliver the most beneficial alkalinity, is acidic (pH 5.8 to 6.8)! What neutralizes acid is alkalinity and not pH. An acidic beverage with the right minerals can actually be very alkalizing![5]

Organic greens powders produced with spinach, spirulina, and/or sea-greens are another great way to boost alkalinity in the diet.

In summary

We can do a lot to support our tissue acid-alkaline balance – and therefore support long-term health – through the diet. However, forget about the pH of anything you eat or drink: it’s irrelevant to human physiology. To really determine if a food conveys an alkaline effect, look for goods listed by their PRAL scores. The negative foods confer alkalizing effects and the positive ones acidifying effects.

Considering that eating is something we do on a regular basis, nutrition is an obvious and way to become masters of our own pH – and health!

Check out part 1 of this post to learn about subclinical metabolic acidosis and the serious health conditions it may be associated with.


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