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 7 is neutral.
- A pH of 14 is the most basic, or alkaline.
For example, battery acid is extremely acidic at 0, while liquid drain cleaner is very alkaline at 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.
High-acid food and drink
If you suspect you have problems with acidity, you can make changes to your diet to help improve symptoms. Foods that are considered acidic must have a pH level of 4.6 or lower. Foods that tend to cause more acidity in the body 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
Research supporting the connection between foods like animal protein and dairy and chronic disease due to a change in the body’s pH is limited. New research may shed more light on this connection, or expose other reasons why reducing animal products is beneficial for health.
Fruits and fruit juices high in acid
Here’s a list of fruits and their pH from the Food Safety and Health department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They are listed from most acidic to least:
- lemon juice (pH: 2.00–2.35)
- limes (pH: 2.00–2.80)
- blue plums (pH: 2.80–3.40)
- grapes (pH: 2.90–3.82)
- pomegranates (pH: 2.93–3.20)
- grapefruits (pH: 3.00–3.75)
- blueberries (pH: 3.12–3.33)
- pineapples (pH: 3.20–4.00)
- apples (pH: 3.30–4.00)
- peaches (pH: 3.30–4.05)
- mangoes (pH: 3.40–4.80)
- oranges (pH: 3.69–4.34)
- tomatoes (pH: 4.30–4.90)
Generally citrus fruits have a low pH, meaning they are acidic. Citrus and other acidic foods may contribute to symptoms in those with upper gastrointestinal issues like an ulcer or reflux. It’s important to remember that fruit juices are acidic, too. Because of this, you should use a straw when drinking fruit juices. This keeps the fruit juice from coming in direct contact with your teeth.
If fruit doesn’t aggravate upper digestive symptoms, they are a healthy food to eat daily and have been shown to reduce chronic disease risk. Despite their initial acidity, most fruits are alkalizing.
Vegetables, especially fresh vegetables, are generally not considered acidic. Here’s a list of vegetables and their pH levels:
- sauerkraut (pH: 3.30–3.60)
- cabbage (pH: 5.20–6.80)
- beets (pH: 5.30–6.60)
- corn (pH: 5.90–7.50)
- mushrooms (pH: 6.00–6.70)
- collard greens (pH: 6.50–7.50)
Drinks high in acid
You may 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.
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 (or neutral) foods and beverages you can incorporate into your diet include:
- soy, such as miso, soy beans, tofu, and tempeh
- unsweetened yogurt and milk
- most fresh vegetables, including potatoes
- most fruits
- herbs and spices, excluding salt, mustard, and nutmeg
- beans and lentils
- some whole grains, such as millet, quinoa, and amaranth
- herbal teas
- fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds
Effects of eating too many acid-producing foods
A diet that includes too many acid-producing foods, such as protein or sugar, can cause acidity in your urine as well as other negative health effects. This may 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.
Some foods and beverages produce less acid than sodas or protein, but they still don’t provide the major alkalizing 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 or affecting your health in negative ways:
- 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, phosphorus, and magnesium may also be helpful for offsetting the negative effects of acid on your bone.
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. Higher rates of prescription drug use also contribute to the problem.
The alkaline diet is a healthy alternative that may work due more to the emphasis on consuming plants and limiting processed foods rather than due to changes in the body’s pH. Eating more fruits and vegetables, along with curbing your refined carbohydrate, sugar, and dairy intake, may or may not help balance pH levels within your body. Either way, a plant-heavy diet with reduced refined sugar intake has many health benefits and may reduce daily issues and lower the possibility of certain long-term health risks.