Everywhere you look online, health “gurus” are warning us about the acid/alkaline balance — telling us to eat more fruits and vegetables to remain “alkaline”. They say that living in an “acidic” condition makes us prone to diseases and by alkalizing your body, you can prevent or reverse disease.
Some experts even go so far as to tell people to avoid all foods that contribute to acidity, such as animal products, and instead encourage a vegan diet, juicing, or fruitarian diet (where all you eat is fruit). It’s important to get to the bottom of this idea so that you can integrate elements that are helpful and not stress over those that are simply not true — and certainly not limit your diet unnecessarily.
Myth versus fact
The truth is that the acid/alkaline balance in the body is a real phenomenon. Yes, it is possible to become too acidic. In the medical community this is called Metabolic Acidosis and can occur when your body:
Makes too much acid (due to stress or a poor cortisol response, over-exercise, poor diet, dehydration and mineral loss, ketone build-up, genetic problems)
Can’t effectively remove enough acid (due to methylation problems, kidney problems, lack of bicarbonate, etc)
In reality, anyone who is suffering from a chronic health condition is going to veer in and out of states of being too acidic. So while you may not have a life-threatening acidic condition, you should still think about ways to become more alkaline. However, instead of suggesting clients eliminate complete food groups, I prefer to make some very strategic dietary and lifestyle changes to restore the acid/alkaline balance more gently.
8 ways to restore the acid/alkaline balance:
Juicing. You need minerals to restore you to a more alkaline state. Making fresh-pressed juices daily is the quickest way to do this. Celery and cucumber juices are especially alkalizing, but I also like to suggest carrot, romaine, jicama, beet, fennel, pear and apple. Really, the sky is the limit but be sure to avoid goitrogenic (thyroid-suppressing) greens such as kale if you have a thyroid condition. If you don’t like the taste of fresh juice, use it as a base in a fruit smoothie to mask the flavor.
Reduce your protein intake. You don’t need to completely eliminate meat, eggs, or dairy unless you are in a terribly acidic state based on labs. Begin to eat large portions of raw vegetables daily and instead have smaller portions of dairy, eggs, or meats.
Limit grains. Grains are also acidifying and if you are in a very acidic state, even healthy gluten-free grains can make it worse. Relying mostly on fruits and vegetables to make up the bulk of your diet is best, then add in some healthy beans, legumes, grains, and animal products as needed to meet your daily calorie needs.
Use supplements to alkalize.
Mineral complex. This should include magnesium and potassium, in addition to other minerals. I find the citrate or bicarbonate forms of minerals works best.
Chlorophyll. An alfalfa-based supplement or parsley works well. I prefer these to other “greens” supplements because they are not goitrogens (thyroid-suppressing foods).
Yucca shigidera. This helps mitigate the toxic byproduct that is produced upon eating animal products. You can take this with each meal that contains protein.
Reduce your salt intake. While I consider unrefined mineral salt to be an essential part of a healthy diet, while you are acidic, anything that dehydrates you will make the problem worse. So limit your salt intake — even the good kind of salt.
Completely avoid refined sugar and alcohol. Both are extremely acidifying.
Avoid stressful thoughts. Stressful thoughts begin a cascade of unhealthy responses in the body, which depletes you of minerals and creates acidosis. You have been programmed from childhood to respond to stress in a very specific way. Deconstruct your stress responses — what triggers you? When you are triggered, where do you hold tension in your body? How can you release it? You are likely triggered by much smaller circumstances that you realize and since these happen on a daily basis, you keep repeating the acid cycle each day.
Avoid intense exercise. While you are too acidic, anything that dehydrates you will contribute to the problem. Choose gentle forms of exercise and exercise indoors during the heat of summer.
Tests to ask for
If you are curious if you are too acidic, you can get testing through your doctor to determine this.
Anion gap test. This tests for metabolic acidosis and will tell you if you are in fact too acidic.
Electrolyte or mineral panel: magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium. Ask for an Intracellular test because blood tests are notoriously incorrect. Minerals help alkalize the body so if you are low in these, it indicates a greater need for dietary minerals or supplements to restore the balance.
If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, chances are you have heard of an autoimmune paleo diet, or maybe even tried it. This diet excludes all grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, nightshades, and sometimes other foods such as citrus or natural sweeteners.
While many have used this diet successfully, I want to present another way to look at this diet because, unfortunately, I have also seen many people GET sick while eating this way.
If done right, this diet can be healthy and can aide in healing a leaky gut (which we know is at the root of autoimmune conditions) as well as reducing your allergen load (which helps reduce immune stimulation). But there are REAL risks with this diet that you should take into consideration before starting or before you continue with it.
Lack of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are essential to human health and without them you can end up digging a deeper hole for your health. You must rely on fatty animal foods to get these vitamins and since avocado, olive, coconut, and meat fats primarily the only fats allowed it can be tricky to get enough animal fat. Most people are used to buying lean cuts of meat to begin with. Use lard, tallow, duck fat, or chicken fat in cooking, and non-lean cuts of meat as solutions to this problem.
Lack of cholesterol. Cholesterol is the raw fuel that our hormones are made from so we need it for our thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormone health. Cholesterol also fights infections (we know infections are a cause of autoimmunity to begin with so we need cholesterol). It also aides in synapse formation so without it we can get brain fog and memory loss. See above for ideas as this only comes from animal fat sources.
High in thyroid-stimulating fats. If you are hypothyroid, this isn’t a bad thing. But if you have Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism, relying on avocado and coconut as your primary fat sources (both of which are thyroid-stimulating) can have dire consequences. I have seen many hyperthyroid patients eat an AIP diet and get worsening of symptoms — rapid heartbeat that can’t be slowed, anxiety, weight loss, mania, sweating, etc.
Weight loss. This is one of the number one complaints I see when people come to me while on an AIP diet before we make alterations. Bottom line, it is HARD to get enough calories daily while eating AIP. It kind of ends up being like the chicken breast and broccoli low-fat diets of the 80’s/90’s. You can add coconut cream to smoothies, put coconut butter on apples or sweet potatoes, fry vegetables in animal fat, dip vegetable chips in guacamole, and eat fruit (especially dried fruits), and have sausage or bacon daily for additional calories, but you will likely still lose weight. If it gets to a point where you are losing too much weight (again, VERY common), you should think about adding in the least allergenic of the foods you have eliminated and see how you feel and how your blood work looks. White rice and legumes that have been soaked or sprouted tend to be okay for some.
Worsening of mental health or mindset. Simply put, it is hard to ENJOY life when all you are worrying about is diet. If you have to eliminate these foods because the diet genuinely is helping or because you do notice a reaction to these foods, then by all means stick with it. But JOY is a required element to the healing process and it’s not fun for anyone to miss out on social events or to simply start hating food because there are so many rules. Rules and the perceived “punishment” make us sick.
Remember, there are always more sides to the story. Just because a diet is popular at the moment doesn’t mean it’s right for YOU. You are a unique being and deserve a diet as unique as your genes and life history. A standard approach can never take those things into consideration.
Stimulants. I’m not talking about hard drugs here, just those “innocuous”, legal, everyday substances people are self-admittedly addicted to: coffee, tea, energy drinks, artificial sweeteners, sugar, MSG or other flavor enhancers, chocolate, diet pills, and more.
Could you be addicted to stimulants?
Do you feel you can’t start your day with caffeine?
Do you make plans to find and consume the above products before you start your day, at the expense of anything and everyone else?
Do you commonly reach for these items in the afternoon as well?
Do you feel jittery or irritable yet crave the boost from these products?
Do you get noticeable “crashes” after consuming these products?
Are you especially tired in the late afternoon?
Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night?
Do you have racing thoughts during the day?
Do you use stimulants to initiate bowel movements?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may need some help replacing stimulants with substances and nutrients that energize you more gradually or make up for deficiencies that are causing you to crave these things in the first place.
12 ways to overcome stimulant addiction:
Vitamin B12. First, get your level tested. If you are in fact deficient or on the low-end of the scale, you can add in an “active” form of B12 called Methyl, Adenosyl or Hydroxy B12. Avoid synthetic B12 which can actually block the absorption of the nutrient. B12 is best taken in the morning and early afternoon.
DLPA. This is a natural stimulant that raises catecholamine levels (catecholamines help us feel energized). However, it is very different from caffeine — DLPA is subtle and should not cause jitteriness.
Adrenal glandulars. This applies to people whose lab work shows they have low cortisol levels. Low cortisol/adrenal gland function is a major cause of fatigue and therefore, the desire to use stimulants. By boosting cortisol levels, you can eliminate the need fr artificial energy from stimulants.
SAM-e. People who have been dependent upon stimulants for many years are often actually low in SAM-e, which causes the cravings. Supplementation with SAM-e may be very helpful. It is also a natural anti-depressant — win/win.
Determine if you have irregular blood sugar or insulin. This is an all too common cause of stimulant use — your blood sugar drops, or you have problems with insulin resistance, which makes you tired before or after meals. So you instinctively reach for a stimulant to give you an energy boost. Low carbohydrate, high fat, moderate protein diets work very well to eliminate low energy caused by food intake.
Determine what your unique food sensitivities are. If you feel cranky, sleepy, achy, disoriented, or brain fogged after every meal, you must determine which foods you are in fact intolerant of. Common food intolerances include: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, grains, nuts and seeds, salicylates, oxalates, histamine, sulfur, gluatamate, and others. Remember that food sensitivities are not always immune-mediated and therefore difficult to prove via testing. You must work with a practitioner and do an elimination diet to figure out which foods you are reacting to.
Determine if you have underlying mood problems. Low mood can cause us to reach for uppers because they temporarily make us feel on top of the world. We can feel powerful, fun, invincible, and ready to take on the world. Caffeine perpetuates a vicious cycle of ups and downs. Address the cause of your low mood and why you instinctively are self-medicating to boost your mood with caffeine. 5-HTP, and GABA can be very helpful to boost a naturally low mood. Essential fatty acid deficiency, food allergies, and other nutrient deficiencies are a known cause of mood disorders too.
Determine if you have low iron. This is a simple blood test you can order from your doctor and if it is low, it is a common cause of fatigue. Address the low iron by supplementing with a whole-foods iron supplement, or by eating foods rich in iron.
Determine if you have low thyroid function. If your doctor has never performed a “full thyroid panel” lab test on you either for your diagnosed thyroid disease or because of your symptoms of fatigue, demand one. Then ask your doctor to treat your thyroid disease according to which values you were low (or high) in.
Get your electrolytes tested. Low potassium is a common cause of fatigue and in fact it is difficult to get enough daily. Do you ever have twitching muscles or muscle cramps, frequent urination or frequent thirst? Those are easy-to-spot low potassium symptom. You can find magnesium/potassium blend powders or drops to put in your water to make-up for any deficit.
Eat B-vitamin and mineral-rich foods. If you can tolerate yeast, nutritional yeast is full of potassium and B vitamins which will keep you naturally energized. Choose one that is not synthetically fortified, like Foods Alive brand. Sprinkle on cooked vegetables, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, gluten-free pasta, mix into sauces and use as a cheese replacement (it has a cheddar cheese flavor).
Determine if you have underlying digestive issues. Sometimes if a person is chronically constipated, they reach for caffeine subconsciously to stimulate a bowel movement. If you are chronically constipated, there are underlying gut issues that need to be addressed: food allergies, gut infections (yeast, bacteria, parasites), lack of healthy gut flora (the good bacteria), lack of digestive enzymes (you can supplement these with each meal), lack of bile production (you can use ox bile and salt your food liberally to taste, or drink lemon water before meals to stimulate bile), and more.