Did she really have all the information we do today or was this just instinct? What we really should eat hasn’t changed that much for a very long time. It is what we DO eat that has created the current health crisis. Not only have we gone away from real food and towards predominately eating processed food but the decrease in consumption of fruits and (especially) vegetables has increased tremendously!
More and more research is coming to the forefront about the importance of having fruits and vegetables as the major portion of our diets. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “At least one-third of annual cancer deaths in the United States are related to dietary factors. Increased fruit and vegetable consumption can reduce cancer risk, but less than one-third of U.S. adults eat the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables every day.” Yet, the idea is not new. Books have been written for years on this subject. Some say the concept goes back as far as Hippocrates.
So what exactly is the big deal? Why are these foods so much better for us?
To begin, fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are loaded with antioxidants which keep our cells from being broken down so easily by free radicals. They are nutrient dense. In other words they are loaded with lots of healthful ingredients and low in calories so you can eat a ton of them, be completely satisfied and still be way lower in calories than you would be when eating junk or processed foods. Best of all, they provide your tissues with an alkaline environment.
Alkaline environment… what does that mean? When foods are metabolized or broken down by the body, they provide the body with energy and leave behind ash. That ash can either be alkaline-forming or acid-forming; based on the mineral content of the foods. The alkaline forming minerals are calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, and manganese. The acid forming minerals are phosphorous, sulfur, chlorine, iodine, bromine, fluorine, copper and silicon. So, those foods that are high in alkaline-forming ash will provide your body with a healthier environment.
If you consume too many foods that are acid-forming, it can wreak havoc on you. As said by Dr. Theodore A. Baroody, author of Alkalize or Die, “ in my opinion, acid wastes literally attack the joints, tissues, muscles, organs and glands causing minor to major dysfunction. If they attack the muscles, you could possibly end up with myofibrosis (aching muscles). If they attack the organs and glands, a myriad of illnesses could occur.”
Amongst the biggest culprits for acid-forming ash are fast foods, processed foods, refined sugars, drugs, and chemicals. Proteins such as meat, dairy, and fish are also acid-forming and yet are important in the diet when taken in proper amounts. Grains and legumes are also acid-forming. Too many of any of these substances consequently leads to an acid environment in the body and can result in disease, infections and especially inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
In addition, we need to have an alkaline reserve in our body for other situations. Lack of exercise can be acid-forming for exercise helps to regulate the acid/alkaline balance via respiration. Stress is a big acid-forming condition. If we are stressed out or angry, our bodies produce large amounts of acid-forming ash. Since this is quite prevalent in today’s society, offering your body more of the alkaline-forming foods is that much more important.
As you can see, there is a fine balance. This balance is referred to as pH or the measure of concentration of hydrogen in the body. A pH above 7 is alkaline. Theories vary as to how alkaline our body (ash) needs to be and yet the range is narrow. Most say a pH of around 7.4 is ideal. Based on what I’ve read that number can vary slightly and how to measure your precise pH (in your body) is actually quite difficult to determine. Having said all this, we do need to be on the alkaline side of the chart and this is mostly determined by what we eat.
Before we get into the foods themselves, let us look at one other major factor – an acid called hydrochloric acid or HCL. This is the only acid our body actually produces and it is essential to life. It is the first substance in the stomach that breaks down our foods. Lack of it and our foods would just be a mass of undigested waste. Along with water and enzymes, HCL digests protein into the eight essential amino acids vital to life. Without it, we would not be able to absorb B12 or folic acid. In addition, this strong acid kills most bacteria that enters our body with the food we eat. Last, it keeps us alive by maintaining the proper alkaline/acid balance and becomes alkaline itself after doing its job.
Lack of or excess amounts of hydrochloric acid have the same symptoms – heartburn, burning sensation in the stomach. Most times, people think it is ‘too much acid’ rather than not enough and end up taking anti-acid tablets, thus decreasing the amount of HCL even further. It is more common that there is not enough HCL. Hydrochloric acid production starts to decline around the age of 40. If you suffer from heartburn, are over 40 or have eaten poorly for an extended number of years, you might consider consulting with a nutritionist about taking a HCL supplement.
So now that we know all this, how are we supposed to eat? To begin, let us look at the side of food that is confusing. One of the greatest alkaline-forming foods is the lemon. We often think of a lemon as being very acid in nature and yet the end result is the opposite. Lemons produce a very alkaline-forming ash due to their mineral content. As mentioned before, the minerals calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, and manganese all end up creating an alkaline-forming ash. Well, lemons happen to be high in potassium, calcium and magnesium! See how it works?
Generally all fruits and vegetables are alkaline-forming while all other foods are acid-forming. To maintain a healthy body, it is suggested that your diet is a minimum of 70% alkaline and 30% acid-forming foods. This ratio is even better at 80% to 20% respectively. If you suffer from any type of disease, inflammatory condition or have a great deal of stress in your life, you might consider upping the ratio to 90% and 10% respectively. Also, based on the degree of alkalinity to acidity (for example some foods have a greater degree of alkaline or acid), you can play with what you eat. I have provided a chart showing you most foods. Simply download this pdf and keep it on your refrigerator. Last, to make it easy when you are eating out, think about your plate being 70-90% full of vegetables and fruits with the rest of the plate being filled with protein. You may think this is impossible but just ask. I often ask for steamed spinach or extra vegetables instead of the bread or pasta they offer. Usually they are glad to accommodate you. (For thoughts on grains, listen to this podcast.)
For many of you this might be a new concept and very different way of eating. I strongly suggest you start slowly. Gradually add in more fruits and vegetables, with vegetables being the major addition. At the same time start decreasing the worst of the acid-forming foods first – such as junk food, fast food, processed food, and sugar. Give yourself several months to make the changes. Over time you will be amazed how much better you feel and how much more energy you have!