Feeling fatigued, foggy, and fat? You may be on an acid trip—a condition in which the body's pH becomes chronically imbalanced. Over time, an acid condition can lead to chronic fatigue, foggy thinking, weight gain, and digestive disturbances, says Michelle Schoffro Cook, DNM, DAC, CNC, author of The Ultimate pH Solution. A number of studies also suggest that acid imbalances can lead to more serious illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, kidney disease, joint inflammation, and rheumatoid arthritis. Some research also points to acidosis as a factor in the development of cancer.
An acid condition, or acid imbalance, means that the blood and cellular fluids in the body have an acidic pH (the relative proportion of acid to alkaline) without enough alkaline compounds to balance them. The body’s pH is measured on a scale of 1 (highly acid) to 14 (highly alkaline), with 7 being neutral, says Christopher Vasey, ND, author of The Acid Alkaline Diet. The blood’s optimal pH level is slightly alkaline, from 7.2 to 7.4. If that narrow range drops by even 0.2, the body tries to neutralize the excess acid, buffering it with alkaline minerals. These alkaline minerals—including calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, potassium, and the like—are extracted from the foods we eat and carried in the blood. But if the blood contains insufficient acid-buffering minerals, the body will draw on reserves from the bones or other tissue, including the liver and the heart.
That’s not to say that acid foods are bad; we need both acid and alkaline for the body to stay in balance, says Cook. The problem is, the typical American diet is oversaturated with acid-forming foods, especially animal products, sugar, coffee, processed foods, and fast foods. Even a “healthy” meal—say, whole-wheat bread, chicken breast, and low-fat cheese—can be more acid forming than alkaline.
A food is considered to be alkaline if it contains a high quantity of alkaline-forming minerals relative to acid-forming minerals such as phosphorous, copper, and sulfur, says Vasey. Dark leafy greens, for example, are quite high in calcium and magnesium, so they’re considered alkaline; sodas are high in phosphorus, so they’re considered acidic.
If you think you may have an acid condition, you can check your body’s balance with pH test strips from most health food stores. Measure the pH of your urine over the course of the day, starting first thing in the morning and measuring each time you go to the bathroom. Chart your results, and calculate the average for each day, and then again at the end of a week. Ideally, you’ll average about 7, the optimal pH of urine, but a slightly more acid measure—between 6.5 and 7—is normal. If your urine’s pH is lower than 6 over the course of a week, it’s time to kick acid. Start with these simple steps:
1 Breathe deeply. In the body, oxygen is alkalizing, and carbon dioxide is acidic. Normally, the two are balanced. But when you’re stressed, your breathing becomes shallow, oxygen intake is reduced, carbon dioxide builds up, and pH shifts to acid. Deep breathing is key for reducing stress, increasing oxygen to the cells, and releasing carbon dioxide. Yoga can teach you to breathe more fully; or spend 30 minutes a day in meditation, taking slow, deep breaths.
2 Skip the drive-thru. Fast foods are usually made up of extremely acidic ingredients—meat, saturated fat, white flour, sugar, corn, potatoes, dairy, and sodas. The same goes for processed foods such as chips, cookies, crackers, cake, donuts, and other products that are fried, or made with sugar, flour, and dairy. Better options: salad bars, or a selection of cooked vegetables and lentils from a natural foods market deli. And definitely lay off the soda; stick to water for a more alkalizing beverage.
3 Limit the sweet stuff. Even natural sweeteners such as honey are high in acid, as are most fruits (with the exception of sour cherries, watermelon,
and coconut). Certain foods that contain a fair amount of acid—including tomatoes, lemons, and sweet fruits—are classified as weak-acid foods, and may become alkaline in the body depending on a person’s ability to process the acids in those foods to make them alkaline.
4 Go veg. In general, vegetables tend to be more alkaline than animal products, and beans are a lower-acid protein choice than meat. Grains and nuts will vary in acid-alkaline levels, but they usually fall around the middle of the spectrum. And green foods—especially leafy greens such as kale, collards, and spinach—are so alkalizing that they really should be eaten at every meal.
5 Practice good, clean living.It probably comes as no surprise, but pharmaceutical and recreational drugs are highly acid forming; so are tobacco, beer, wine, hard liquor, and caffeine. To quickly reduce the amount of acid in your diet, kick the hard stuff and swap coffee for green tea. And include plenty of movement, especially outdoors: A brisk walk, or any kind of exercise that increases respiration will also oxygenate the blood and make the body more alkaline.
Finally, it’s important to remember that what you’re really striving for is balance. Sure, you may need to cut down on the acid, but that doesn’t mean that
all acidic foods are bad. Plenty of good-for-you options such as beans, nuts, fruits, and whole grains fall into the acid category. That doesn’t mean that you should cut them out of your diet—just that you should balance them out with alkaline foods.
In general, a 70-to-30 ratio of alkaline-to-acid foods is best for most people. Just be sure to spend the acid portion of your diet on nutrient-dense choices such as beans, nuts, and fruit—not on cheeseburgers and French fries—and you’ll find yourself back in balance in no time.
Kale, Goji, and Avocado Salad with Kumquat-Pomegranate Dressing
¼ cup dried goji berries
1 large bunch kale
2 tsp. pomegranate molasses or
100% pomegranate concentrate
1 small orange, juiced
2 Tbs. grape seed or olive oil
½ cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 small avocado, cubed
PER SERVING: 350 CAL; 8 G PROT; 25 G TOTAL FAT (3 G SAT FAT); 28 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 66 MG SOD; 9 G FIBER; 8 G SUGARS
Kick acid, and stick to more alkaline selections, and you'll balance your body in as little as two weeks. For the fastest balancing act, eat plenty of vegetables, minimize your intake of animal protein, and give up coffee, flour, and added sweeteners. Follow this eating chart to get you started:
Napa Rolls with Green Pea, Basil and Garlic Sauce
Makes 8 rolls
2 Tbs. coconut oil
½ small red onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, pressed, divided
2½ cups vegetable broth, divided
1 cup red lentils
2 cups spinach, chopped small
1 cup lightly cooked green peas, or thawed frozen green peas
½ cup basil leaves
2 Tbs. olive oil
½ lemon, juiced
16 large napa leaves
Lemon zest for garnish (optional)
Cayenne pepper for garnish (optional)
PER SERVING: 174 CAL; 8 G PROT; 7 G TOTAL FAT (3 G SAT FAT); 19 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 56 MG SOD; 6 G FIBER; 2 G SUGARS