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!