Is the acid/alkaline balance a myth?

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Completely avoid refined sugar and alcohol. Both are extremely acidifying.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 
  • Urine test for ketoacidosis

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calcium sources in a dairy-free diet

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If you’ve gone dairy-free for healing food allergies and a leaky gut (a cause of autoimmunity and thyroid disease), you may be concerned about calcium intake and not getting enough to support your bones and teeth. Don’t worry — there are plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium full of taste and nutrition to incorporate or emphasize in your diet.

dairy-free calcium sources:

  • canned wild-caught fish (with the bones. the bones disintegrate when you cook/eat them)
  • greens and green vegetables
  • nuts and seeds, especially sesame seeds/tahini
  • seaweed (only if your thyroid can tolerate)
  • water kefir made with egg shells
  • bone broth (also happens to heal Leaky Gut — a cause for thyroid disease and autoimmunity)

There’s also evidence mounting that the amount of calcium a person eats in a day may not be as important as the other nutrients she’s eating it with. That is, co-factors like Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 (found in animal fats) are essential for calcium absorption. So be sure to eat adequate thyroid-stimulating and immune-supporting fats each day to maximize calcium intake.

food ideas:

(As always, homemade ensures better nutrition!)

  • baba ghanouj made with tahini
  • hummus made with tahini
  • grain-free salmon cakes
  • cup of bone broth as a snack
  • sardine salad (á la tuna salad) mashed with mayo, herbs, and lemon
  • homemade nut milks with the pulp
  • water kefir flavored with fruit of your choice
  • seaweed snacks (often toasted with sesame oil)
  • dairy-free cheeze sauce/dip made with hemp seeds, cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts
  • raw dark greens salad topped with soft-boiled eggs and probiotic vinaigrette
  • green beans almondine
  • chili made with bone broth
  • water kefir “Icee”: blended with ice and frozen fruit
  • green juice made in your juicer
  • mock tuna salad nut paté
  • seaweed salad (using a gluten-free and/or soy-free “soy sauce” substitute)
  • almond flour pancakes
  • herb-only salad: parsley, basil, cilantro, mint tossed in a light dressing
  • smoothie made with homemade nut milk, nut butter of your choice, fruit and dark greens