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Acid/base balance, in terms of human health, refers to the biological homeostasis or balancing of acidic and basic (alkaline) activities in the body. pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity: higher pH means more basic/alkaline and lower pH means more acidic.

Alkaline Diet and Health

Ancestral human diets may have been largely plant-based, with consumption of animal products being rare and intermittent, making those diets more basic/alkalizing than is the typically acid producing Western diet (standard American diet—SAD) of today.

The balance of acid/base-inducing foods determines the “dietary acid load” (DAL).
Acid-inducing diets are rich in animal proteins; base-inducing diets are more plant-based and are high in the most alkalizing foods, fruits and vegetables. Beans are also significantly alkaline-forming.

Foods that Influence Acid/Base Balance

Meat, eggs, and dairy are comprised proteins that contain acid forming sulfur. Plant foods contain less sulfur, making them more alkalizing. The acid or base-producing characteristic of dietary protein choice seems to be a more important determinant of the progression of kidney disease (and the formation of kidney stones) than the amount of protein ingested.

Too much acid load may cause damage to the delicate urine-making tubes in the kidneys via increased ammonia production. Kidneys create ammonia (a base) to buffer the acidity from the food we eat. This gets rid of the acid, but over time the extra ammonia in the kidneys can have toxic effects. The idea that kidney function tends to decline progressively as we age may be a result of damage induced by years of ammonia overproduction, not aging itself. The acidic pH may also increase the production of free radicals, which damage the kidneys.

Under normal circumstances, a vegetarian diet is alkalizing and a non-vegetarian diet is acid producing. Comparing kidney function, the people who have the most plant-based diet were associated with less kidney decline. A vegan diet appeared more beneficial than vegetarian, and vegetarian better than meat containing diets. Apparently, the fewer animal products, the better!

But meat or plants are not the only dietary choices that affect acid/alkaline balance. More refined grains and less fiber–such as eating white flour and white rice–is also associated with higher acidity. Vegetarian diets containing whole grains and beans also create healthy alkalinity. This higher fiber, less acidic diet also bodes well for those hoping to avoid bowel and colorectal cancer.

Alkalization of the urine is effective for removing uric acid from the body, and a plant-based diet does just that—this is good news for those wanting to reduce the risk of fatal stroke, heart disease, and death.

Wasting muscle mass appears to be an adaptive response to chronic low-level diet-determined acidosis. Preserving muscle mass may be as easy as eating your fruits and veggies and eschewing the standard American diet.

 

Image Credit: mmoxley / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

Topic summary contributed by Lori

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