Replacing your acid-forming diet with alkaline-forming foods could be the easiest and yet the most important health decision you have ever made. By Catherine Eden
Advances in medicine and science have not changed the fact that the human race is riddled with illness. Heart disease, AIDS and cancer continue to take their toll, and a host of less life threatening but debilitating ailments affect the quality of everyday life. We attribute the diseases of our time to heredity, lifestyle, stress, environmental pollution, old age or sheer bad luck. We very seldom link them with something as simple as faulty nutrition.
Natural healers have offered their truth about good health for centuries, but we in the West have generally turned a deaf ear to their wisdom. We know that whole, fresh food is good for us because it contains essential vitamins and minerals, but that knowledge has not slowed our consumption of animal fats, dairy products, sugar, refined flour, salt and chemicals. When our overloaded digestive systems complain, we reach for more chemicals to ease our discomfort.
But the most effective antidote to illness is cheap, natural and readily accessible at any supermarket. Fruit and vegetables, aside from their well-advertised virtues, perform a lesser-known but crucial function: they alkalise the body.
‘When foods are metabolised by the body a residue is left which can alter the body’s acid and alkalinity,’ writes Patrick Holford, founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, in The Nutrition Bible. ‘Depending on the chemical composition of the “ash”, the food is called “acid-forming” or “alkaline-forming”.
This is not to be confused with the immediate acidity of the food. Oranges, for example, are acid due to their citric acid content. However, citric acid is completely metabolised and the net effect of eating an orange is to alkalise a body; hence it is classified as “alkaline-forming”.’
A human’s pH level (acid/alkaline balance) is supposed to be predominantly alkaline, and the range in which our pH-sensitive enzymes work best is quite narrow. Our Stone Age ancestors ate correctly, and so do many traditional societies whose diet is based on seasonal raw food and an occasional piece of meat or fish. Affluent Westerners, however, fill up on acid-forming fried foods, hamburgers, pizza, bread, preserved meats, cheese, sweets, coffee and fizzy drinks and eat too few vegetables to redress the balance.
The old adage, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ contains a profound message: germs find an alkaline environment inhospitable. By alkalising your system you can protect yourself from colds and flu and, more importantly, you can bolster yourself against the threat of serious illness.
‘Cancer cells flourish in acidic conditions, but won’t grow in an alkaline environment,’ says Cape Town naturopath, Dr Charl du Randt. ‘In the conventional medical world a patient’s pH levels are only checked in acute situations, because a pH disturbance in itself is not something that threatens human life. But I believe it underlies most chronic diseases in our society – a society that has become acid.’
If this is so, and if good health is so easily within everyone’s grasp, why is this information not available in every doctor’s surgery?
‘In previous years, nutrition was not emphasised in a doctor’s training,’ says medical practitioner Leslie Emdin. Some of us do shout about it, but we are crying in the wilderness. It’s absolutely crucial that nutrition be included in the assessment of the patient. Imagine what would happen to your car if you put sugar in the petrol? Well, it’s the same with putting the right nutrients into your body.’
Not everyone agrees, however, that an alkalising diet is the answer to health. ‘We rarely talk about an acidic or alkaline diet for healthy individuals,’ says Ingrid Schloss of the Nutrition and Dietetics Unit of the University of Cape Town’s Medical School, ‘because there is more to maintaining the pH of a body than food. Ultimately, regardless of what you eat, the pH levels are regulated physiologically by the kidneys and the lungs.’
But perhaps at some cost. ‘Because blood pH must always be normal to sustain life, a body that is too acidic will rob the bones of their alkaline minerals to maintain the right level,’ explains Charl du Randt. ‘Furthermore, digestion requires powerful acid in the stomach, which means that there must be a balanced amount of alkalinity in the body. If there is not, the acid will be insufficient for thorough digestion, resulting in spastic colon, leaky gut syndrome and so on.’
Alkaline-forming foods are therefore vital to good health. This does not mean that all acid-forming foods are ‘bad’; they should just make up the much smaller percentage of our daily intake. Some books suggest a proportion of 80% to 20%, but each individual has slightly different needs and will have to experiment to find the combination of foods that work best.
A number of well-known diet plans have the effect of alkalising the body. The currently popular blood group diet is a good place to start, or the food-combining programme that separates proteins and carbohydrates. Cancer patients have seen their health improve when they follow a macrobiotic diet, which is also high in alkaline-forming foods.
‘If our blood is not sufficiently alkaline we leech calcium from our bones,’ says macrobiotic teacher Jane Towen. ‘While dairy products are rich in calcium they are actually acid-forming. Once you understand diet you can take charge of your own health. My sister died of breast cancer and I think I would have become ill if I hadn’t gone macrobiotic. I’m convinced that I saved my life by changing my diet.’
When corporate trainer Vicky Coates developed a worrying stiffness in her shoulders and neck she thought she might be over-exercising, sitting incorrectly, or sleeping on a bad bed. ‘I changed my habits but the problem persisted,’ says Vicky. ‘I’ve always been very interested in nutrition and started reading a lot on the subject. When I came across information about the acid-alkaline balance I realised that my diet was high in acid-forming foods. I began to alkalise my system and after just ten days was aware of a definite improvement. It’s really not difficult to do. For a few days I ate fruit for breakfast and baked potato, baked onion and salad for the other two meals. After that I followed a food-combining plan: lots of steamed vegetables with either carbohydrate or protein. If you stick to that principle, you’re 80% of the way to an alkalising diet before you know it.’
Old acid-forming favourites don’t have to be cut out completely, as long as you make them exceptions rather than staples.
‘Have your cup of coffee or your glass of wine,’ says Charl du Randt, ‘but be aware of what it’s doing to you and don’t make it a damaging habit. Before you drink that can of cola, consider that it will take 36 glasses of water to neutralise its acid-forming effect.
‘A person whose pH is wrong will never have optimal health, but the good news is that a human being is like a pot plant: As long as there is still life in it, you can restore it to good health. All the information it needs is encoded within it. You just have to feed it the right nutrients.’
On his desk lies a book by Dr Theodore Baroody, who has no qualms about ringing the alarm bells as loud as he can. ‘Alkalise or Die’ is the blunt title of his work on the subject. Put that way, becoming informed about nutrition is not just a good idea; it’s an offer we’d be crazy to refuse.
Published in Clicks Clubcard Magazine
Alkalise or Die, by Dr Theodore Baroody; Choose Life or Death, by Dr Carey Reams and Dr Cliff Dudley