Monday, March 21, 2011

Understanding alkaline/acid balanced nutrition

So you will say to me: One more thing to think about, one more diet to follow that will  lead to more dietary restrictions, less food choices, in two words: LESS FUN!

Believe me, this is how I felt when a few weeks ago I was advised by my nutritionist to go on an 80/20 alkaline/acid diet in order to resolve some chronic health issues;

As human creatures we are constantly seeking pleasure and we must all admit it, food is one of the pleasures of this world. The 17th century French playwright Moliere wrote in his famous play "The Miser": "il faut manger pour vivre et non pas vivre pour manger" - in other words: We must eat for the purpose of living rather than live for the purpose of eating... Well, that is highly debatable, especially in today's food oriented societies!

For me, as well as for most of you,  it is clear my friends that one of the reasons I live is to eat (so be it! I disagree with our Cher Moliere) and when my dear nutritionist Jen attempts to change my purpose for living I tend to wither away...

Of course, I am exaggerating here for effect! the real truth IS that each time I start a diet that forces me to increase my food consciousness, I must admit, I feel fantastic; my energy increases as the quality of my sleep improves, my digestion becomes less sluggish and my mind becomes clearer and sharper.

Still when I embarked a few weeks ago on an alkaline based diet I kicked and screamed all the way to the supermarket. Goodbye my daily glass of 2007 Cotes-du-Rhone, Adieu my dear cup of over-priced-but-taste-the-best-I've-ever-had Intelligentsia coffee, Farewell to my duck breast with cherry port reduction, Ciao to my freshly baked, home-made gluten-free daily bread, etc etc.

Yes! I do realize that most of you reading these lines have no clue what alkaline, acid and pH mean so let me get more serious here for a moment and please stay with me as I go through some "scientific" explanations.

The initials - pH - mean "potential of hydrogen" and it is a measure of the acidity or acid/alkaline imbalance in our system. pH represents the symbol for a scale numbered from 0 to 14, that rates water solutions according to their acidity or alkalinity.

Remember that water is the most abundant substance in the human body comprising approximately 70% of the body fluids.

Pure water is given the number 7 right in the middle because it contains an equal number of acidic and basic ions and is therefore considered neutral.

As the alkalinity of a solution increases, the pH value goes up, closer to 14 (strongly alkaline). As the acidity of a solution increases, the pH goes down, closer to 0 (strongly acidic). On this scale, the most acidic solution is hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) which is rated at a pH value of 0. At the other end of the scale is a solution of sodium hydroxide rated at 14. Other solutions - like human blood, whose pH should be slightly alkaline,rates at approximately 7.5.

The body continually strives to balance pH and when the amount of acids reach beyond a certain threshold a condition called acidosis arises.

When the pH is acid on a chronic basis (we refer to it as an acid terrain) many health issues can arise as our nerves, our organs and our entire skeleton are permanently bathed in a sea of acids. The potential damage is vast and can include the following.

- Cardiovascular damage
- Weight gain, obesity and diabetes
- Cold sensation
- Hair loss
- Weak nails
- Chronic dry skin
- Kidney stones
- Immune deficiency leading to proneness to infections
- Hormonal imbalance
- Premature aging
- Osteoporosis
- Muscle aches, joint pain
- Cramps
- Low energy, chronic fatigue
- Chronic depression
- Slow digestion and elimination
- Yeast/fungal overgrowth (candidiasis)

And the list goes on and on....

An important fact here to point out is that the pH of our blood or urine - which rates its alkalinity or acidity - is NOT to be confused with the actual pH of the food we eat.

As an example lemons test very acidic, however after they are digested and assimilated the end product they produce is actually alkaline.

Likewise, meat will test alkaline before digestion, closer to 14 but because it leaves very acidic residues in the body, it is considered very acid forming.

People trying to maintain a healthy balance between alkaline and acid need to be concerned with the acid forming properties of any given food and NOT the acidity of that particular food.

So for this purpose we are going to group foods in 2 categories:

1) alkaline forming foods aka alkalizing foods
2) acid forming foods aka acidic foods

I will refer you to the Internet for more detailed and extensive lists of alkalizing and acidifying foods. Let me just give you here a broad overview of these two categories and the types of foods within the acid forming foods that you should avoid and those in the alkaline forming that you should favor if you want to receive the benefits of an
80% alkaline/20% acid balanced diet;

Acidifying groups of food:

- All animal proteins including eggs
- Cheeses and dairy products
- Cereals, including whole grains
- Grains: wheat, oat, millet, barley
- All bread products
- Sugar, including artificial sweeteners
- Candies, pastries
- Most nuts, except, except raw almonds
- Caffeine (coffee, black tea)
- Alcohol (beer, spirits and wine)
- Prescribed and over-the-counter drugs

Alkalizing groups of food:

- Potatoes
- Green vegetable, raw or cooked
- Most ripe fruit
- Millet, quinoa
- Cold pressed olive oil
- Beans in small quantities

Now remember I am NOT suggesting that you cut out foods from the acidic list completely. I am saying reduce the comsumption of these foods dramatically and increase foods from the alkaline list monumentally; I'll let you do the math!

Again, check the Internet for more specific charts.

But read on... And become aware that certain negative emotions and activities can be highly acidic!

- Jealousy
- Hate
- Fear
- Anger
- Stress
- Insomnia
- Smoking
- Radiation exposure ie television, cell phones, computers

Reduce these dramatically and replace them by the following positive emotions and activities that are highly alkaline!

- Peace
- Gratitude
- Forgiveness
- Joy
- Laughter
- Positive Thinking
- Relaxing
- Exercise
- Deep Breathing
- Meditation
- Yoga

Where do I start?

I would suggest 1) start a food diary for one week without altering anything in the way you eat, drink or live your life; in the meantime 2) become educated as to what foods are alkalizing and what foods are acidifying 3) print out a good, legible and understandable chart 4) take a moment to sit down with your food diary and your chart and highlight the components of your diet, ie red for acidifing and blue for alkalizing.

  • Be objective with yourself and try not to cast any judgement. Just know that our modern societies are very acidic so please don't feel alone.

5) now comes the decisive moment: when to start and how to start; I suggest to my patients that they follow an alkaline/acid balancing diet for two weeks every 3 to 4 months.

This is when your culinary imagination comes into play; if you enjoy cooking you will discover many ways of preparing some tasty and healthy meals. If cooking is not your cup of tea you may need the guidance of someone who does, who will help you design some creative and tasty meals.

Remember that most people fail at engaging in good dietary habits simply because they lack the imagination and eat food that is boring, tasteless and unexciting!

The more palatable your food the more likely you will stick to your new healthy eating habits;

I imagine that just like I did you will at first resist the idea of embarking on yet another diet and try to delay or resist the outcome. But if today you are experiencing symptoms that will just not go away you might want to give the alkaline/acid balance diet a chance!

I guarantee that you will be impressed with not only the way you feel but also the way you look and you will be encouraged to make those new healthy habits a part of your life.

My final recommendation once you have completed your two-week program is to keep a chart of the food categories in your kitchen and refer to it on a regular basis so you can begin to develop some consciousness about the healthy ratio of alkaline foods and acidic foods you choose to eat on a day-to-day basis and just like nature itself constantly thrive for balance.

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