Day in and day out, your body is hard at work maintaining a slightly alkaline environment, because proper pH balance is vital for good health. Billions of cells in your tissues rely on an alkaline environment to function properly, prevent cellular damage and fend off pathogenic microbes. With the exception of a human system such as the vagina, which must maintain a slightly acidic environment, most of your body systems require alkalinity to function optimally. As awareness of the significance of alkalinity increases, you may want to take steps to boost the acid-alkaline balance for health benefits. You can do this through making some changes to your diet, which are good for you regardless of whether you're seeking alkaline benefits or not.
Diet, Acidosis and Health
Dietary factors influence the pH balance -- or acid/alkaline balance -- of the body. The acid/alkaline load of a given food refers not to the pH of the food prior to consumption, but to the acid/alkaline result after you digest it. A given food may have an alkaline pH but produce acid upon digestion or vice versa. The kidneys bear the brunt of the responsibility for neutralizing acid, so the process is sometimes referred to as "potential renal acid load" or PRAL. In an alkaline diet, foods are given scores based on whether they're acid- or alkaline-forming, called the PRAL scores.
Over time, regularly eating a diet high in acid-forming foods can cause low-grade acidosis throughout your body, which may increase the risk for chronic diseases. For the first time, researchers used a large-scale study to demonstrate that a high dietary acid load increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. The study, published in the European journal Diabetologia in 2014, involved tracking more than 66,000 women over the course of 14 years. Compared to women who ate a low-acid-load diet, participants who consumed high-acid-load diets showed a significant increase in developing type 2 diabetes over the course of the study, according to the results.
In a separate study of people with type 2 diabetes, published in the July 2015 issue of the Journal of Diabetes Investigation, researchers demonstrated that an acid-forming diet and low vegetable protein were linked to increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of health-risk factors including high blood pressure and elevated blood glucose.
Eat Less Animal Protein
A diet rich in animal protein and low in fruits and vegetables promotes a high dietary acid load. If you eat too much meat, cheese and eggs, cutting back can help reduce the acid load and help alkalize your body. Try having "meatless Mondays" and replace meat in your dishes for that day with a vegetable source of protein such as tofu -- an alkalizing protein. Experiment with creating more vegetarian dishes like vegetable soup and vegetable chili. You'll quickly find that you don't need meat to make a satisfying meal; for example, you can make a hearty sandwich using your favorite veggies and some large portobello mushroom caps for a meaty texture.
Consume More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables -- with the exception of cranberries -- boost alkalinity, which is measured through urinary pH levels. The alkalinity of fruits and vegetables neutralizes acids and helps keep the balance tilted more toward alkaline. Have vegetables or fruits with your main meals and snack on them between meals. Dip vegetables in hummus instead of snacking on less-nutritious, acid-forming foods. Keep fruit where you can see it and bag it to take with you on the go. Incorporate fruit into smoothies by blending it with almond milk and ice for a chilled snack.
Alkaline Meal Planning
Make salads a staple in your meal plan. Leafy greens are not only alkaline-producing foods, but they're rich in vital micronutrients your body needs to function properly. Instead of using just lettuce, try making salads with other greens such as spinach or kale. Darker greens are higher on the alkaline-forming scale and richer in nutrients than other salad greens.
Become familiar with alkaline-forming foods, which are naturally nutrient-rich, and use them as a foundation to build healthy meals. Other alkaline-forming foods include carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, potatoes, eggplant, celery and cucumber.
While foods like whole grains and unsaturated fats are non-alkaline-forming, they do provide nutritional benefits and are a part of a healthy diet. As long as you consume a diet rich in nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, you don't have to avoid non-alkaline-forming foods that are healthy. Grains like oats, millet, spelt, amaranth and buckwheat help meet your fiber needs, while fatty fish, plant and seed oils provide the fat your body needs.
Keep in mind that alcohol consumption, tobacco and soda are acid-forming and negatively impact the acid-alkaline balance. Cut back or quit to improve your health and reduce the risk of disease.
Potential Benefits Aside From Alkalizing the Body
The alkaline diet is controversial and not universally accepted. The body has its own systems to maintain alkalinity, so unequivocal evidence is needed to determine whether alkaline diets are beneficial. However, the high mineral and nutrient content of alkaline diets may offer some health benefits, according to a researcher from the University of Alberta in Canada, who reviewed existing evidence and found that the rich fruit and vegetable intake in alkaline diets may benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting in older adults and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
- Diabetologia: Dietary Acid Load and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: The E3N-epic Cohort Study
- Journal of Diabetes Investigation: Lower Vegetable Protein Intake and Higher Dietary Acid Load Associated with Lower Carbohydrate Intake Are Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: Post-hoc Analysis of a Cross-sectional Study
- MedlinePlus: Urine pH Test
- U.S. News and World Report: Acid Alkaline Diet
- Acid Alkaline Diet: Food Chart
- Acid Alkaline Diet: Food List
- Journal of Environmental and Public Health: The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?