What is Potential Hydrogen or pH?
There is a lot of information regarding bodily health in terms of how acidic or how alkaline our bodies are. Firstly, pH stands for ‘potential hydrogen’ and it gets its name from the way solutions on the pH scale are tested. The pH scale tests show a degree of concentration of hydrogen ions in a substance or solution and this degree results in a rating between 0-14 with 0 being the most acidic substances (battery acid, sulphuric acid) and 14 being the most alkaline substances (calcium, bleach). One thing to note is that the scale is logarithmic; meaning each distance between numbers is to the power of 10. So why is it important to understand the pH scale and how acidic or alkaline our bodies are? What does this mean to achieving optimum health and wellness?
Why Does pH Need to Stay in Balance?
The human body is a master at balancing all our necessary pH’s and it’s quite a task when you consider the various acids, liquids, cells, and fluids our body contains and how they all require different pH levels!
|Granules of Chromaffin Cells||5.5|
|Neutral H2O at 37 degrees Celsius||6.81|
Looking at the chart above, you can get an idea of our complex and widely differing requirements. If our blood pH gets too far out of range, our bodies will go into a coma as a result. But long before that happens, the body will work to maintain the ideal pH of blood because blood is the substance in our bodies that maintain homeostasis. Your brain will even alter its pH to prioritize the blood pH.
How the Body Maintains pH Level
There are “buffers”, so to speak, that alkalize blood when it becomes too acidic and vice versa. When our blood becomes too acidic, our bodies buffer that change by alkalizing the blood with minerals. Our kidneys also regulate our urine by releasing excess acid while simultaneously storing acid to release back into the blood when necessary. Our lungs work constantly to bring in oxygen, which is alkalizing, and release carbon dioxide, which is acidic.
Maintaining body pH is something that we largely do not play a conscious role in. As a rule of thumb, our bodies know what they need. Many times we think our bodies are malfunctioning when really, they are trying to indicate a problem. If we could understand the underlying problem instead of trying to quiet the symptoms, we might find that the discomfort we were upset over was a clue that helped us achieve complete health.
How We Interfere with Maintaining pH Levels
So now we understand that our bodies regulate themselves, so let’s take a look at how we aid or interfere with their efforts to keep us neutral, overall. While it’s very difficult for us to alter the ideal pH of our blood, our choices in foods can wear down those “buffers” that were previously mentioned. For instance, if we are causing our blood to be too “acid” our body will pull minerals from our food to alkalize the blood.But if we are not receiving enough minerals through our diet, our body has to find minerals elsewhere to alkalize the blood. Unfortunately this means pulling those minerals from our bones, joints, and wherever the body can find what it needs. This is a survival mechanism that can cause serious problems over time.
How to Determine pH Levels of Foods
Below you will find a comprehensive guide to the rankings of various foods on the pH scale. It’s a good visual to understand that not all types of foods are created equal. You will find different types of vegetables and nuts all across the pH scale.Not all types of foods are created equal, and vary in their alkaline or acid levels. You will find different types of vegetables and nuts all across the pH scale. Celery has a pH of 10, while sweet potatoes have a pH of 5. Raw almonds have a pH of 8, while peanuts have a pH of 4.
1000 x More Alkaline – high alkaline ionized water, raw spinach, raw broccoli, artichokes, raw asparagus, red cabbage, raw celery, collard greens, raw kale, dandelion, seaweeds, lemons & limes, rhubarb stalks, pure soy lecithin, alfalfa grass, barley grass, wheat grass black radish, soy sprouts, chia sprouts
|100 x More Alkaline – avocados, borage oil, green tea, most lettuce, raw zucchini, red radish, red beets, raw tomato, french beans, parsley-cilantro, raw peas, raw eggplant, alfalfa sprouts, green beans, beet greens, garlic or chives, dog/shave grass, lemon grass, cayenne pepper||9.0|
|10 x More Alkaline – Brussels sprouts, endive, green cabbage, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, cooked asparagus, lima beans, soy beans – fresh, navy beans, cooked peas, cooked eggplant, sour grapefruit, raw almonds, wild rice, quinoa, millet, flax seed oil, coconut water, chicory, olives, bell peppers, watercress, white radish, lamb’s lettuce||8.0|
|NEUTRAL pH FOODS –
Neutral – most tap water, most olive oils, pumpkin seeds, primrose oil, marine lipids, sesame seeds, raw goat milk, fennel seeds, sunflower seeds, leeks (bulbs), coconut & oil, barley, sprouted breads
|ACID pH FOODS –
10 x More Acidic – fresh water fish, lentils, spelt, soy flour, Brazil nuts, wheat kernels, coconut, macadamias, grapes, hazelnuts, brown rice, wheat, papaya, stevia & agave, watermelon, cantaloupe, cherries, strawberries, plums, blueberries, raspberries, dates, peaches, oranges, pineapple, banana, mango, walnuts
|100 x More Acidic – honey, coked beans, bread, liver, organ meats, cocoa, soy milk, white rice, potatoes, butter & corn oil, soft cheeses, milk & cream, sweet potatoes, whole grain, rye bread, white bread, white biscuit, fruit juice, cashews, oysters, rice cakes, turbinado sugar, ketchup, mayonnaise, figs & prunes, rose hips, cooked corn||5.0|
|1,000 x More Acidic – turkey, ocean fish, chicken and eggs, hard cheeses, mustard, canned fruits, beer & wine, cream cheese, most pastries, popcorn, peanuts, pistachios, fruit drinks, beet sugar, white sugar, coffee, chocolate cranberries, buttermilk, tomato sauce||4.0|
|10,000 x More Acidic – pork, veal, beef, lamb, pickles, vinegar, black tea, soy sauce, hard liquors, canned foods, processed foods, microwaved foods, sweetened fruits & juices, tobacco products (chewed or smoked), artificial sweeteners, 16 oz, Chocolatty-Moca-Frappucinos, sodas, carbonated beverages||3.0|
|NOTE: Most foods become more acidic when cooked, and it takes 20 parts of alkalinity to neutralize 1 part of acidity in the body.|
Consider the common meal of a cheeseburger, fries, and a soda. The beef has a pH of 3, the cheese (probably cheddar) has a pH of 4, mustard has a pH of 4, the pickles have a pH of 3, the fries and ketchup have a pH of 5, and the soda has a pH of roughly 3. You might notice that common diets, on a whole, consist of foods found in the highly acidic range. Dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, and processed foods, like canned and packaged snacks and convenience foods, fall on the acid side.
Cooking foods adds to their acidity, so it makes the most sense to eat raw as well as cooked foods and to put an emphasis on fresh, green vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables, soybeans and tofu, and some nuts, seeds, and legumes are alkaline-promoting foods.
Do Acid Foods Taste Acidic?
The references to acidity and alkalinity are in regards to the effects they have on the body. Acid foods don’t necessarily taste acidic and vice versa. An orange might be considered acidic by taste, but it actually has an alkalinizing effect on the body. The most acidic food you can intake is sugar straight from sugar cane and, seemingly counter-intuitive, the most alkaline food you can intake is lemon. These are true because of the resulting effects on the body. One way to describe this is with the idea that foods turn to “ash” in our bodies and if the result of the food leaves an acidic ash, then it has an acidizing effect on the body and if it leaves an alkaline ash, then it alkalizes the body.
What is a Healthy pH Diet?
In order to maintain a cellular pH of 6.5, our diets need to be comprised of 70-80% alkaline foods. This includes:
- leafy greens
- good oils
- honey, and others
That leaves 20-30% of the diet to acidic foods such as: sugar, meat, aged cheeses, grains, legumes, and other nuts.
It should also be noted that caffeine, alcohol and tobacco are all acidic as well. Maintaining a healthy weight will also result from eating the outlined diet above. Most weight loss plans cut out processed foods and sugars and put a heavy emphasis on leafy green vegetables and healthy meats because it’s a fool-proof way to keep optimal health and maintain a good body size.
How Does This Affect Chronic Health Problems?
Some cancer patients are placed on highly alkalinized diets because diseases usually thrive in acidic bodies. Oxygen is deadly to cancer, so cancer thrives at lower pH levels. Remember how we discovered that each numeric change on the pH scale is to the exponential power of ten? It should also be noted that each numeric change also alters oxygen levels by 60%. This means there could be a very serious oxygen deficiency at the highly acidic pH levels.
Some doctors recommend patients reduce intake of (or stop eating completely) nightshades, such as tomatoes and potatoes, as a remedy for arthritis. One important thing to remember is that diets in response to issues in our bodies don’t have to be permanent! We can give up a certain food or reduce its consumption in our diets to achieve a level of health and then slowly introduce it back in. With foods, we need to work with our bodies and respond to their needs.
What is Acidosis and Alkalosis?
It is possible to have what is commonly referred to as ‘acidosis’ or ‘alkalosis’. These are conditions that result from too much or not enough acid in the body fluids. Because our bodies are so efficient at balancing all of our pH levels, it takes severe dietary imbalance to be in these states. But diet is not the only cause of imbalance.
Too much stress can be very acidic to our bodies as well as lack of fresh air, improper amounts of sleep, failure to get enough sunshine, and lack of water. Some side effects of being too acidic are coughing, coma, irregular heartbeat, increased heart rate, weakness, nausea, frequent sighing, anxiety, and the inability to hold your breath for a period of time.
The other extreme, alkalosis, can be caused by a lack of oxygen as a result of poor breathing practices, or other conditions that prevent pure air access. Some side effects of being to alkaline are deficiencies in potassium and calcium, twitching, hyperventilation, arthritis, allergies, bone spurs, and calcium deposits. People who are sick might also notice symptoms of alkalosis as vomiting induces a loss of stomach acidity. One of the most important poor practices that can cause alkalosis is the improper usage of antacids. Antacids are not a good way to combat alkalinity because they need an acid medium to be absorbed by our bodies.
Maintaining proper practices for our bodies and being intentional with what we choose to eat can help us work with our bodies toward heightened overall health!
Cassileth, Carrie R. (2008). Principles and Practice of Gastrointestinal Oncology. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 137
Segel, Irwin H. “Acid and Base.” Biochemical Calculations. 2nd ed. Wiley: BK Book, 1976. 12.
Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.Goldman’s Cecil Medicine
Needham, A. Comparative and Environmental Physiology. Acidosis and Alkalosis. 2004.
Williams, Sue. Basic Nutrition & Diet Therapy, 11th ed. 2001: Mosby (2001). p. 414.
This article was written by Jessica Johnson. Jessica is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Jessica has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management with an Economics and International Studies Minor from the University of Central Misouri (UCM). She is currently working as Assistant Manager and Sales Representative in Pacific Grove, California. She was Vice President of Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society from 2011-2012 and is a sales representative for Young Living Essential Oils Company. Jessica is passionate about holistic health and healing. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at http://www.montereybayholistic.com. All images are copyright free, from http://www.pixabay.com unless otherwise noted.
Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.