Does eating too many acid-producing foods cause health problems? The paleo diet says it could. This protein-based diet recommends you eat foods that give you a good acid-base balance.
The popularity of the diet has brought attention to acidity, but what does that mean? Read more to learn about the effects of acid in foods and some foods to avoid.
The pH value tells you if something is an acid, a base, or neutral. A pH of 0 indicates a high level of acidity. A pH of 14 is the most basic, or alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral. For example, battery acid is an extremely acidic at 0, while liquid drain cleaner is a very alkaline 14. Pure distilled water is in the middle at 7. It’s neither acidic nor alkaline.
Just like different substances, different parts of the human body have different pH levels. Your ideal blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline. The stomach is typically at a pH of 3.5, which helps food break down properly.
A diet that includes too many acid-producing foods, such as protein, can cause acidity in your urine. This can cause a type of kidney stone called uric acid stones to form.
It’s been speculated that too much acidity can also cause bone and muscle deterioration. This is because bones contain calcium, which your body uses to restore your blood’s pH balance when it becomes too acidic. Some evidence suggests that phosphoric acid, commonly found in darker sodas, is linked to lower bone density, especially when it replaces milk, a calcium and protein-rich beverage. Too much acidity can also increase your risk for cancer, liver problems, and heart disease.
Because waste products tend to be acidic, researchers at the University of California in San Diego suggest eating more sources of alkaline-producing foods, such as fruits and vegetables, at a 3-to-1 ratio. The pH of a food before you eat it is less important than what it turns into once it’s inside your body.
While rare, it’s possible for the urine’s pH to be too alkaline. However, in the United States, too much acid tends to be a more common problem. This is because of the high rates at which people eat animal protein, sugar, and grains, as well as because of higher rates of prescription drug use.
If you suspect you have problems with acidity, you can make changes to your diet to help improve symptoms. Foods that tend to cause more acidity and that you may need to limit or avoid include:
- certain dairy products
- processed foods
- fresh meats and processed meats, such as corned beef and turkey
- sodas and other sweetened beverages
- high-protein foods and supplements
You may also choose to avoid high-phosphorus drinks such as beer or hot chocolate made from packets of cocoa mix. Mineral sodas or sparkling water can be a good substitute. If you do wish to drink alcohol, go with lower phosphorus red or white wine.
Some foods and beverages produce less acid than sodas or protein, but they still don’t provide the major alkaline effect of most fruits and vegetables. Experts don’t always agree on the exact food lists. Aim to limit these foods since they may be affecting your acid-base balance:
- nuts, such as cashews, peanuts, and walnuts
- seeds, such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, and plums
- corn oil
- sweeteners, such as sugar, molasses, maple syrup, processed honey, and aspartame
- condiments, such as mayonnaise, soy sauce, and vinegar
- hard and processed cheeses
- grains, such as corn, rice, and wheat
If you’re worried about acid wearing down bone, you can take small amounts of sodium bicarbonate. University of California, San Diego researchers suggest doses that are less than 5 grams. However, you shouldn’t take it during mealtimes because it can interfere with your digestion. Getting enough dietary calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium may also be helpful for offsetting the negative effects of acid on your bone.
When it comes to the benefits of a more alkaline diet, research published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health says that no conclusive evidence suggests it improves bone health. However, it may help limit muscle loss, strengthen memory and alertness, and help you live longer.
Some alkalizing foods and beverages you can incorporate into your diet include:
- soy, such as miso, soy beans, tofu, and tempeh
- unsweetened yogurt and milk
- raw honey
- most vegetables, including potatoes
- most fruits besides those previously listed as acidic
- herbs and spices, excluding salt, mustard, and nutmeg
- whole grains, such as flax, millet, quinoa, and amaranth
- herbal teas
The alkaline diet is a healthy alternative. Eating more fruits and vegetables, along with curbing your refined carbohydrate, sugar, and dairy intake, may help balance pH levels within your body. Properly balanced pH levels may reduce daily issues and lower the possibility of certain long-term health risks.