BY: YURI ELKAIM
Is your diet “acidic” or “alkaline”?
And why should you even care?
As you know, the foods you eat have a powerful impact on your health. Eating foods that are more alkaline can be health-promoting, as we’ll learn below.
But that doesn’t mean you suddenly have to eat a “raw” or “vegan” diet, which is what we tend to think about when we think about eating highly alkaline foods.
The truth is, eating alkaline foods doesn’t require any extreme measures.
Eating high alkaline foods simply means you’re eating more of certain foods to help prevent your blood from becoming too acidic, which promotes your health in endless ways.
In fact, among other things your body has a hard time properly producing energy in an acidic internal environment, as an acidic state leaves less oxygen available to your cells for energy production (1).
It just so happens that the most alkalizing foods are plant foods, which makes them excellent food choice when you’re eating for energy. Therefore, eating energizing, alkaline foods simply means you’re eating more fruits and vegetables.
What’s so crazy about that?
What Does Acid/Alkaline Mean?
Our bodies have what’s called a pH balance, which measures the acidity in our blood. That level can determine our overall state of health – and whether or not we’re at risk for serious illness.
Our blood is measured on a pH scale that ranges from 0 to 14. Zero is considered most acidic, while fourteen is highly alkaline. The ideal pH of our blood for optimal health is around 7.35, which is neither too acidic or too alkaline, but neutral.
The reason the acid-alkaline balance matters to you is because it directly impacts your state of health.
An acidic environment is considered the perfect setting for illness and disease to thrive in.
Previously, the acid-alkaline diet was thought to be some crazy, vegan hippie myth. But even Dr. Otto Warburg, who dedicated his life to researching cancer cells, won a Nobel prize for proving that cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline environment (2).
As mentioned above, one of the primary factors that influence our blood’s pH are the kind of foods we eat.
All foods can be categorized as acidic, alkaline, or neutral. A food’s pH isn’t measured by its physical properties, but by the residue that’s left in the body once the food has been metabolized.
For example, we’d intuitively consider a lemon acidic because it has a sour taste and the ability to erode our tooth enamel. But once it’s been metabolized by the body, lemon leaves the blood alkaline. This explains why a seemingly acidic food can “turn” alkaline in the body.
To determine whether a food is alkalizing or acidic to the body, each food is measured on a PRAL scale.
What Is PRAL?
PRAL isn’t the sound a dying cat makes – rather, it stands for the “Potential Renal Acid Load” of a food. Instead of simply categorizing a food as acidic or alkaline, PRAL measures the exact amount of acidity or alkalinity of a food once it’s been metabolized (3).
Each food on the PRAL scale scores in a negative, neutral, or positive value. Any food that has a negative value is considered an alkaline food (or a base), while any food with a positive value is acidic.
For example, broccoli has a score of -1.2, which means it’s alkalizing – but not as alkalizing as eggplant, which scores at -3.4.
Lean beef, on the other hand, has a score of +7.8, which means it’s highly acidic.
To get a little more technical, PRAL measures the acidity or alkalinity of a food based on the amount of minerals, protein, and phosphorus that’s left behind in the body once it’s been metabolized.
Since protein and phosphorus break down into sulfuric acid and phosphoric acid, they are considered acidifying to the body. When an alkaline food is metabolized, it will leave behind alkaline trace minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
The foods that rank most alkaline on the PRAL scale are fruits, vegetables, and a few nuts and seeds. The foods that rank most acidic are the foods many of us eat each day, such as chicken, grains, eggs, peanuts, fish, seafood, and dairy products.
In fact, I hate to be the messenger here, but parmesan cheese has a score of +34.2 on the PRAL scale, which classifies it as one of the most acidifying foods in our diets.
Now, you may be wondering how dairy could be classified as acidic, seeing as how it contains calcium, which is an alkaline mineral. The reason dairy is acidic is because it contains much more phosphorus (which is acidic) than calcium (4).
As a quick side note, how the PRAL table measures the acidity of a food isn’t to be confused with how our blood’s pH is measured.
If we were applying PRAL scores to the pH scale, the 7.8 score of lean beef would suggest that it’s alkaline, or neutral. Unlike the pH scale, a food with a negative score actually means it’s alkalizing to the body. Make sense?
The Problem with Being Too Acidic
We’ve briefly touched on one of the most detrimental effects of an acidic internal environment, which is the encouragement of disease – specifically cancer.
But being too acidic can come with other symptoms that occur far before a serious illness results. In fact, being too acidic can result in muscle wasting and reduced bone density. This is partially due to the fact that many acidic foods are low in nutrients that promote musculoskeletal health, such as potassium and calcium (5).
To get slightly more scientific in terms of bone health, an acidic environment has been shown to encourage the activity of osteoclast cells. Osteoclasts are cells that break down bone.
In contrast, an alkaline environment has been shown to encourage the activity of osteoblasts, which are the cells that help build bone (6). (To learn more on the relationship between an alkaline diet and bone health in more detail, visit here.)
In addition to the long-term conditions that can result from being too acidic, there are short-term symptoms that may also suggest your body is more on the acidic end of the pH scale. These symptoms include:
- Low energy
- Brain fog or confusion
- Anxiety and depression
- Frequent headaches
- Frequent colds
- Joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Digestive issues such as bloating
Now, the body contains natural compounds such as bicarbonate, that act as buffers to neutralize blood acidity. These buffers help prevent extreme drops in blood pH. This is an important defense not only against acidifying foods, but also against other factors that promote acidity in the body, such as chronic stress (7).
Strenuous exercise can also promote blood acidity because it encourages the release of lactic acid from the muscle tissue (8).
While your body has a natural defense system against having an acidic blood pH, it is possible for these buffers to get worn out over time – especially if several factors are present that negatively impact your pH, such as stress and a highly acidic diet.
For this reason, it’s important to support your body by including alkaline foods in your diet whenever possible.
This isn’t to say you must go raw vegan and eat only alkalizing fruits and vegetables for the rest of your life.
While it’s rare, it’s still possible for the blood to become too alkaline. But since the modern diet is typically higher in acidifying foods, including alkalizing foods into your diet each day will help neutralize your blood pH and improve your health in numerous ways.
Now, let’s go into more detail with this high alkaline foods list.
19 Highly Alkaline Foods That Will Benefit Your Body
1. Beet Greens – PRAL score: -16.7
Let’s give a round of applause to the world’s most alkaline food: beet greens.
Although beet greens aren’t the most popular green in our diets, their high alkalinity score makes them one of the best additions to smoothies or stir-fries. In addition to being high alkaline, beet greens also have a bitter quality that may help stimulate bile production to help better digest fats.
If that’s not a good enough reason to hang on to your beet tops, I don’t know what is.
Beet greens can replace any green in salads, soups or smoothies.
You may want to try my Apple Cider Vinegar and Green Detox Salad recipe, where you can easily substitute the spinach, kale or watercress for beet greens.
2. Spinach – PRAL Score: -11.8
Spinach is another high alkaline food that is known to benefit bone health because of the calcium it contains.
Because spinach is highly alkalizing, it’s often included in anti-cancer and cleansing juicing protocols. There are endless creative and delicious ways to eat spinach.
I recommend giving any of these Easy Green Smoothie Recipes a try. Each smoothie only has 3 ingredients, with endless flavour combinations.
3. Kale – PRAL Score: -8.3
There’s a reason kale has been labelled as the new beef.
It’s high in plant iron, calcium and vitamin K, which is said to help protect against many types of cancers. In addition to these health benefits, kale is another one of the world’s most alkaline foods.
Kale has a mild taste that can jazz up any recipe. You can easily add kale to any smoothie recipe that calls for greens, stir fries, salads and soups for a (delicious) alkaline boost.
Why not get your kale on with this delicious Kale Curried Chickpea Salad Bowlrecipe? It’s packed full of flavor and takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.
4. Swiss Chard – PRAL Score: -8.1
Have you noticed a pattern yet? The world’s most alkaline foods are leafy greens. Swiss chard is another green that provides mega nutrition benefits with vitamins that support cellular health, such as vitamin K.
Swiss chard also contains phosphorus and plant protein, but based on its PRAL score, it leaves behind more alkalizing minerals than acidity when metabolized.
I recommend using Swiss chard as hearty lettuce wraps, in any recipe that calls for a grain bun or tortilla.
The Kitchn has a great recipe for Swiss Chard Taco Wraps with Cumin Lime Sauce. Although I recommend avoiding the optional cheese to keep this dish highly alkaline.
5. Bananas – PRAL Score: -6.9
Bananas, aka “Potassium Sticks,” are another highly alkaline food that you won’t want to leave out of your diet. Bananas are also a great source of fiber, which help promote digestive regularity and sweep toxins out of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
While most people tend to avoid bananas to prevent weight gain due to their high sugar content, eating a banana is far better for you than eating a granola bar or some other processed food that’s packed full of sugar and acidifying ingredients.
One of the most delicious ways to include bananas in your diet is by making banana “nice cream,” which is simply just frozen bananas blended into a creamy consistency. The best part about banana nice cream is that you can jazz it up with other alkaline ingredients, such as fresh mint leaves and berries.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s a recipe for my favourite Mint Cacao Chip Nice Cream.
6. Sweet Potato – PRAL Score: -5.6
Now you can feel better about eating sweet potato fries (in moderation).
Although they’re higher in starch, sweet potatoes are an alkalizing food that provides your body with plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Because sweet potatoes are so high in fiber, they have less of a negative impact on blood sugar levels, since fiber helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Therefore, sweet potatoes are an excellent food when it comes to eating for energy and providing your body with a boost of alkaline nutrients.