A New Balance: Can Acidic Foods Make You Sick?

Teren MacLeod doesn’t know what to call her dietary regimen.

No processed foods, sugar or vinegar; no white flour or breads containing yeast. Beef (eaten just once a week) is locally raised, closed herd and grass-fed. Cheating means a glass of wine or a scoop of European-style yogurt.

Truth is, the Port Townsend, Wash.-based real estate agent borrows from a few meal plans: vegetarian, raw and live, a hint of macrobiotic. But what underlies them all is a burgeoning practice of eating alkaline foods and avoiding acidic ones, a concept known as acid-alkaline balance.

For much of the alternative health community, “acid” is something of a four-letter word. After all, acid corrodes substances as strong as steel, it’s used to manufacture TNT and it accelerates rust. Just imagine what it can do to our insides.

“Think of a piece of thick steak in acid,” says John Ossipinsky, author of An Undetected Acid-Alkaline Imbalance (Vision Publishing). “The proteins would cook. The same thing is happening in our bodies. We’re rotting from the inside out.”

“Balance” is a bit of a misnomer. The diet is actually more of an alkaline counterbalance. The healthy human body naturally runs slightly alkaline with a pH of 7.39. That alkalinity amounts to good enzyme function, metabolism and waste disposal. While acidity varies widely among different organs (the stomach has a pH of 2; the brain, 7.1), the pH of our blood must remain within tight parameters, 7.36 to 7.42.

Here’s the problem: the typical American diet, including sugar, fast and processed foods, meat, coffee and alcohol is highly acidic. What’s worse, two of our most frequent pastimes—stress and inactivity—as well as air pollution and smog, all contribute to less alkalinity and rampant acidity in our internal environment.

“Recognize this is the soup we’re swimming in,” says Santa Monica-based homeopath and acupuncturist Murray Clarke. “Now, what can we do to neutralize it?”

The easiest option is to let nature take its course. According to The Acid-Alkaline Diet for Optimal Health (Healing Arts Press) author Christopher Vasey, ND, the body has two means of defense against acidity: elimination by respiration, secretion and urination, or buffering by release of alkaline substances, like phosphorous, from the bone.

“Critical mineral loss becomes even more pronounced when the plundering is intense and prolonged,” writes Vasey. “It’s the source of a host of troubles and diseases.”

Troubles like fatigue, headaches, acne, osteoporosis, arthritis, sciatica, hyperthyroidism and insomnia, says Vasey. Ossipinsky, a lymphadema therapist, says acids cause lymph vessels to become so tight and constricted that they’re unable to adequately pick up and transport cellular waste from the body. And Clarke notes that acidic blood can’t carry enough oxygen, which creates the ideal environment for viruses, bacteria and fungus to grow.

Nonsense, counters Elaine M. Kaptein, MD, professor of Nephrology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “For normal people, acidity is not a problem. The reserve (of alkaline substances) is huge. Between the lungs and the kidneys, we take care of all of it.”

It’s not the first—or likely the last—time alternative and conventional medicine butt heads. For MacLeod, the proof is in the results. She started her food and lifestyle change in July with a liver cleanse supervised by her naturopath, Ruth Urand. Since then, her energy level has soared, her candidosis no longer causes severe itchiness under her right arm, and she’s dropped 26 pounds (her husband has lost 17).

“I’m so convinced that what we’re doing is part of the big picture,” says MacLeod. “Our bodies tell us; all we have to do is listen.”

Don’t Eat the Brown Acid

“Consider acid to be a can of black paint, and alkaline a can of white paint,” says bodyworker Aric Spencer. “Add a little white to black and there’s no noticeable change. A little black in white, however, and the effect is exponential. Acids are always more potent.”

The potency of acids is just one reason eating an acid-alkaline balanced diet is challenging. First, it’s impossible (and inadvisable) to eliminate all acids from the diet. For example, foods rich in protein like meat, dairy products and soybeans are acidic.

Second, the classification of foods as alkaline or acidic is not consistent throughout available literature. Brazil nuts may be slightly acidic on one list, but alkaline on another. “Different foods will have different effects in different people,” explains Murray Clarke, DHom, LAc . “People need to eat for their blood types. Meat for an O type is actually alkalizing.”

So, what’s an alkaline-minded eater to do?
1. Record the pH of your saliva when you wake and midmorning for 10 days to determine your pH. pH paper is generally available at homeopathic pharmacies.

2. “Eliminate the big bad foods,” says Aimee Kelley-Spencer, a bodyworker who also teaches raw and live food preparation classes in Washington. Her top five: sugar, coffee, alcohol, meat and dairy.

3. Introduce healthy alkaline choices like salad greens, bananas, almonds, raisins and sweet potatoes.

“Acid-alkaline balance is a guideline, not a diet,” assures Kelley-Spencer. “But it leaves the experiment in your hands.”


Rachel Dowd is a freelance writer living in Topanga, where acid has an entirely different connotation.

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