What’s The Deal With Being “Acidic”?

Dr. Will, Holly, and I are all in grad school for the next two years, getting a Masters in Human Nutrition. Part of one of our classes is on a discussion board, and a student made the comment that “an acidic body causes disease.” (Inaccurate Statement #1) If you’ve done any reading in nutrition, you may have heard this statement before, and, as usual, it’s become a sound bite without any specifics (and for those of you that know me, this drives me crazy ;-)  So let me explain.

First, it’s much too simple to say that the body shouldn’t be acidic. The mouth, for example, needs to be alkaline to remineralize your teeth (and often isn’t because we drink acidic things like soda, coffee, tea, etc. Why do you think we keep recommending the Zellies teeth kit?!), but the stomach as to be VERY acidic to digest properly. In fact, the whole digestive tract needs to be acidic — that’s why they call the beneficial bacteria “ACIDophilis”!  And the pH of your blood shouldn’t change very much (you can change it just by holding your breath) — if it changed too much, you would die. Your liver needs acidity to break down histamines (the ones causing your allergies, for example). So making blanket statements that you shouldn’t be “X” doesn’t work.

Perhaps a better way to understand acidity and alkalinity in the body is to think of minerals: a high mineral status gives you alkalinity; a low one, acidity. We find minerals in vegetables — as Dr. Will puts it, we can’t digest rocks, so we have the plants do it for us, and then we eat the plants, getting the minerals. Here’s Problem #1: our vegetables are lower in mineral content now than they’ve ever been, and that’s even if you’re buying organic. This would be why patients come in to us and can’t figure out why their pH strips aren’t improving, even thought they’re eating a lot of veggies.

Which leads us to Inaccurate Statement #2: That meat is acidic. This is the root argument that meat is bad for you, because it theoretically causes an acidic environment (let’s leave out the whole conversation about the quality of meat for the moment). Why this is inaccurate is because while meat does leach out SOME minerals, it’s actually filled with minerals as well (especially the organ meats like liver that no one eats anymore) so it’s actually quite neutral. People repeating the statement that meat is acidic are simply parroting something they heard before, without knowing the specifics. And the specifics are that meat (especially organ meat) is actually very minerally dense. Liver is crazy high in minerals — probably the highest of all the meats, and WAY higher than vegetables.

How else would you explain the low cancer rates of multiple traditional cultures that ate large amounts of meat and didn’t eat huge amounts of plants? Right — their meat (and they ate THE WHOLE ANIMAL, not just the muscle) was high in minerals. They ate 4 times as many minerals and 10 times as many mineral activators (What are those? Fat soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, K2… ) as we do. And those fat soluble vitamins that help transport minerals into the body? Only found in animal products.

But you want to know what really causes a body to be mineral deficient (and therefore “acidic”)? Sugar. And refined carbs. To digest sugar, our body has to mobilize sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and the constant onslaught every day of refined carbs and sugar, along with not eating foods that are mineral-dense, causes our body to be WAY our of balance. Why is this a big deal? Because magnesium is involved in over 200 different enzymes, and calcium is involved in at least that many, just as a small example.

So don’t fall into the trap of thinking “acid” foods are bad (and then getting confused about things like lemons and apple cider vinegar, for example!) — think of things in terms of mineral content and work on eating THOSE things and cutting out sugar!