The Acid/Alkaline Food Myth.

I love food. I love the smell, the look, and most of all the eating! Perhaps even a little too much on the eating side. I also like to read about the science of food, and the science of digestion and metabolism.

We humans are basically a biological amalgamation of complex chemical processes that  let us do some really amazing things! Our cells are tiny factories that not only perform essential life processes – they can also manufacture their own replacements!

Different cells in our bodies are renewed at different rates. The cells in your lungs are replaced every 6-weeks, your taste-buds are renewed every 10-days. The cells in your bones average 10-years. Many of the cells in our bodies are less than 12 years old! Some cells – such as brain cells – are never renewed. And others such as the cells in our hearts are renewed very slowly.

This renewal process is what keeps us healthy and vigorous – and as long as the replication process does not have errors we will continue to thrive. When cells develop errors this can lead to a health crisis. The most common type of “cell error” is called cancer.

Now there are many theories on what causes cancer, and how cancer can be controlled, even repaired. And since we are bio-chemical factories driven by what we intake (food, water, air and god-knows what else!) – it makes sense what we eat and when we eat might be part of the solution (or problem)!

So we have theories of anti-oxidants, and flavonoids, and mega-dosing of this and that, and micro-dosing of other things. It is quite the mystical intra-relationship of  fact, fancy, and wishful-thinking. And of course there is also that other complicating factor of mind over matter – and how what we believe can actually change us! Placebo effect anyone?

So it is with interest that I have been reading the theories of acid-forming vs alkaline-forming foods, and the health impacts of these food groups. Basically, the theory propounds that eating certain foods will change our body pH levels. Acid-forming foods will increase our body acidity. Alkaline-forming foods will increase our body alkalinity.  And we need to remember that “acidity is bad” and “alkalinity is good”.

Now acid-forming and alkaline-forming is not the same as a food that is acidic or alkaline before it is consumed. This is because the digestion process breaks the food down into various chemical bits and bites – and those in turn may be utilized in other chemical reactions.

It would then seem to be common sense that food would impact our body acidity and alkalinity. Except it turns out that isn’t how our metabolic processes work. There is actually a very limited pH range within our bodies – and our bodies respond quickly to maintain the optimal pH balance. Basically our internal pH is maintained between 7.35 and 7.45 on the pH scale. In other words we are slightly alkaline. Or, as I like to think of it, we are all mildly base creatures on the inside.

The acidity-alkalinity concept also takes a knock when we stop and think about the actual digestion process. We eat food and it drops into our stomach where the food is broken down by a very powerful gastric acid bath (including natural hydrochloric acid). The acid your stomach will dissolve zinc. The pH level of gastric acid is 1.5 to 3.5 on the pH scale.

Some of the acid is neutralized by reacting with the food, and any remaining acidity is countered in the duodenum by a neutralization process that basically dumps sodium bicarbonate when high acid levels are detected. The gastric acid is basically converted into salt, carbon dioxide and water. As the digestion process moves down the intestines – the pH level climbs back to about 8.0.

I won’t get into the full details of absorption of nutrients – but basically the nutrients from the food are broken down into rather basic forms that our body can  absorb. This is an important part of how we maintain our bodies – as not everything can be digested and absorbed. What we do absorb has to be broken down and presented in a form that can cross through the intestines into our blood stream for transport where it is needed in our bodies. What this means is we do not absorb a steak – we absorb the nutrients that make up that steak. What cannot be absorbed is discarded as waste.

Basically the digestion process ensures our body pH levels stays within the acceptable range. However, and this is important to know, our excretions may have higher or lower pH levels depending on what our bodies are discarding as waste. The fact that urine may be more or less acidic after eating a specific food does not mean our body pH has been impacted. The same is true about saliva. The measured pH level of saliva will vary depending on what you last ate, and the bacteria in your mouth.

However – a diet high in acidic foods means we certainly will force our bodies to produce more neutralizing chemicals. This can place a strain on our digestive systems and make us feel tired. And a diet high in alkaline foods will reduce the efficacy of our stomach acids and our digestion process may be less efficient. This may mean undigested food makes it into the large intestines where the many bacteria that share our bodies have a feast – and produce various waste products of their own. Oh bloating is such fun!

The  acid-forming vs alkaline-forming food categories in the end do very little for our overall internal body pH balance (since other biological processes regulate those pH levels). However, the food categories are probably an effective diet aid simply because they do encourage healthy food choices.Really the acid-alkaline categories are not much different that the traditional food guide based on recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruits, grains and meats.

And in the end if the acid-forming vs alkaline forming food groupings make your choices easier and healthier – well that is a good thing! Just don’t pay attention to the mythology that goes along with the groupings!

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Chernobyl Years Later

Pripyat - Ukraine

Pripyat - Ukraine (Photo credit: nertog - Walk With Me)

On April 26, 1986 a nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine. There was an explosion  and the graphite moderator was exposed to the air. The moderator caught fire and large amounts of radioactive materials were released into the atmosphere.

Thousands of people were relocated because of the radiation – and entire towns and cities were abandoned. The city of  Pripyat was built to house the Chernobyl workers and their families. I was randomly browsing when I came across a website dedicated to the city – and to the virtual community of the residents in exile. Their homes forbidden to them.

Prypiat School

Prypiat School (Photo credit: Blacklili)

http://pripyat.com/en is the site. There are galleries of the town in the past and as it is now. There is a strange beauty to the abandoned buildings and empty streets.

http://pripyat.com/en/monitor displays the current radiation levels in areas around Chernobyl – and compares to some other major urban centres. Pripyat has more than double the normal levels of radiation.

Chernobyl radiation map from CIA handbook, svg...

Chernobyl radiation map from CIA handbook, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is rather fascinating is  the fact that one can actually book a tour of the area: http://stayinkiev.com/en/Chernobyl-Tour . There are some incredible photos in this site – not my kind of tour with those levels of radiation.

Prypiat

Prypiat (Photo credit: Blacklili)


Earth Hour – Such a Waste

Yesterday (March 31st 2012) millions of people around the world pretended to reduce their energy usage by turning off the lights and living in darkness for one hour. All in an effort to feel good about the wasteful consumer focused lifestyle they live the other 8759 hours of the year. Oh and also as a token effort to increase awareness of global warming.

The first Earth Hour was held in 2007 in Sydney, Australia. Since then, more than 120 countries have participated in this cathartic display for the  purging of our eco-sins.

Now I know I run the risk of being  jumped by the truly green few that read these pages so I will do this disclaimer: I went to university to study environmental issues and environmental policy. My honors thesis was on Energy use, and Sustainable Energy Sources. I am a card carrying Green Party member. I just find eco-tokenism to be an hinderance to real change.

The noble ideal behind Earth Hour is that by consciously living in a more more eco-friendly way – even if only for those 60 minutes – it may change the way we live the other 8759 hours.

If you did participate by turning off all those things you didn’t really need during that hour – how much could it hurt to only turn things on when you actually need them!

If you think Earth Hour actually saves energy or reduces carbon emissions, well I have bad news for you. The power grid is designed to meet peak projected demands. Electricity is constantly being created and fed into the grid in the expectation that it MAY be needed. Power generation plants do not turn on/off based on current consumption. In fact in Ontario, Canada the local power system had to dump electricity during an unexpected warm-spell in January – by paying others to take it!

If you want to reduce overall energy generation (and our total carbon footprint) then you need to reduce your energy use all the time.  This changes the peak energy expectation – and then our energy generation stations will reduce their output based on averaging.

Earth Hour does start the conversation and is an opportunity for us all to look at our lifestyles and make real changes.

Below are some suggestions from WWF Canada on how to make a real change:

  • Leave the car at home. Consider walking instead of driving. You’ll get more exercise and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Eat local. Your food will be fresher and will save harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Fly less. Enjoy a local vacation close to your home.
  • Be energy efficient. Opt for home appliance with a high energy efficiency. It’s better for the planet and will help you save money.
  • Use Green Power. Research if there are green energy providers in your area thatb provide your home with power generated from renewable energy sources.
  • Get a Home Energy Audit. It will show you how your home uses energy and where you can make improvements. It could result in hundreds of dollars in energy savings each year.
  • Hang Dry your clothes. Instead of using your energy-guzzling dryer, hang your clothes outside or in your laundry room.
  • Unplug unused appliances and electronics. Electrical devices draw energy even when they’re not switched on.

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