Balance is a central tenet of life. In most systems, once that fragile equilibrium is knocked off-center, so is the health of the system. Sometimes it can recover. Sometimes it cannot.
That is the basic theory of the "acid-alkaline balance," a relatively new eating philosophy. A brief chemistry review might help. A pH of 7 is neutral on the acid-base scale, which goes from zero to 14. Any number higher than seven signifies an alkaline, also called a base; anything lower is an acid. Stomach acid, which is mostly hydrochloric acid, has a pH of around 1. Sodium hydroxide, aka lye, is at the other end of the spectrum with a pH of 14. Human blood exists in a very tight range from 7.35 to 7.45, with 7.4 considered optimum. Even a minor deviation from the normal range can severely affect many organs, according to the Merck online medical library. If that balance is nudged in one direction or the other, the body must compensate.
This is where proponents say the acid-alkaline diet, or alkalizing diet, comes into play. Our hectic lifestyles, combined with poor food choices, tend to drive our systems toward the acidic. Our bodies then are forced to constantly work back toward the healthy alkaline range.
"The re-establishment of the health-promoting alkaline state is essential to the regeneration of immune competence and overall health, says Ritamarie Loscalzo, an Austin, Texas-based health coach. "To regain the life-supporting alkaline state, acids from all sources must be buffered or neutralized through combination with alkaline minerals. The alkaline minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chromium, selenium and iron."
Further, the theory holds that if we aren't eating enough of the alkaline-forming foods, our bodies will find what they need to maintain health from other sources, such as bones.Here—as is often the case in natural health—there is some controversy. Nutritionist Felicia Drury Kliment, author of The Acid Alkaline Balance Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2002) and Eat Right For Your Metabolism (McGraw-Hill, 2006), believes the delicate pH balance is thrown off kilter by another byproduct of modern living—poor digestion resulting from bad food choices. While it sounds logical that if you're too acidic you should eat foods with more alkaline minerals, the fact is that individuals are not overly acidic because they lack alkaline-based foods, but because they are eating foods that their particular metabolism can't handle, Kliment says. As a result they don't digest their food properly. Once poor digestion is corrected, the blood pH becomes normal.
Either way, say proponents, being mindful of what effect daily choices have on blood pH level can lead to improved health. Kliment suggests consumers take a niacin test, which she outlines in her book, to determine the type of diet appropriate for their metabolism. "The first thing that happens to an individual on a metabolically appropriate diet is that their digestion improves," Kliment says. "The food in their digestive tract is broken down with only a minimum remaining undigested. They are not filling their bodies with junk and, as a result, there is so little acid waste in the body. As a result, their inflamed organs heal and stop degenerating."
According to Loscalzo, "Many organs and systems, especially the kidneys, adrenals and lungs, play important roles in maintaining proper pH. Diet, however, is especially important. That's why a diet that is predominantly alkaline-forming is essential to the maintenance of good health. On a balanced whole-foods diet, the net acid/alkaline balance is maintained in proper proportion."
Even minor changes to offset acid-forming habits can yield big results, Loscalzo says. "I tell people to start with making 50 percent of their plate fruits and vegetables," she says. "And I see so much improvement [in clients] just from that." It could be a good starting point for customers seeking to explore the acid-alkaline diet. It might also improve your produce sales.
Bryce Edmonds is a Boulder-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 3/p. 82,84