Originally published July 24 2008
The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide: Interview with the Author
by Dr. Phil Domenico
(NaturalNews) I had the distinct pleasure of reading a paperback book by Dr. Susan E. Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr. called the Alkaline-Acid Food Guide. It is a short read and quick reference on the extent to which foods affect the pH balance in our bodies. The book is based on compiled research from a number of important scientists who spent their life documenting the pH effect of thousands of foods and drinks. The authors do an admirable job of summarizing all this effort in a very simple manner for everyone to appreciate. Nevertheless, the 80-plus pages of food tables in their book are very useful even to professionals.
Their major premise is that the modern diet tilts the bodyís pH toward the acid range, which has negative health consequences. The kidneys, lungs and skin must work overtime to balance body pH toward the alkaline. They do so by borrowing alkaline minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium) from bone and tissue. Muscle is also broken down to obtain alkalizing amino acids (i.e., glutamine). Over the long haul, bones weaken and muscles waste away to compensate, and aging is accelerated. Osteoporosis, muscle loss, kidney stone formation, joint and back problems are among the conditions associated with even a slightly acidic state. The authors also describe many other problems and chronic conditions that could result from what they term chronic, low-grade acidosis.
This book has already had a major impact on my eating habits, and I was already a health nut. Yet, it left me with a number of questions. Since Larry Trivieri and I are acquaintances, and grew up in the Rome-Utica area in upstate New York, I thought it would be fun to have a public dialogue with him. Larry is a noted author and lecturer in the natural and holistic healing world, and is publisher of the free online newsletter, The Health Plus Letter (www.1healthyworld.com/ezine) . He joins me here in this question-answer forum:
Dr. Felipe: Excuse my excitement, but I find this perspective on health fascinating, and very practical. I realize that you are not the first to introduce this notion of pH imbalance, but no one has ever made it as practical as you and Dr. Brown have. The first thing I did after reading your book was to make a list of the most acid-forming and alkaline-forming foods as a personal guide. Then I went out and bought every high alkaline-forming food I could find.
Larry: So, what have you observed thus far?
Dr. Felipe: I believe that I may be on the way to solving some old, nagging health issues with your guidance. The jury is still not out yet, but I do feel more energetic and happy, the weight is starting to drop, and my allergies are not as bad as before. Iíll know for sure come ragweed and dust-mite season. You say in the book that the benefits increase over time with consistency. Iím looking forward to that.
Larry: As with any health enhancing measure, eating according to the principles Dr. Susan Brown and I share in our book will have a cumulative effect in terms of the benefits people typically experience when they shift their diets to eating foods that are primarily alkalizing. Initially, many people wonít necessarily experience benefits that they notice. Even so, Susanís research shows that benefits are occurring. Over time, as the body is no longer burdened with a steady diet of acidifying foods, more oxygen and nutrients are able to be delivered to the cells and tissues, and before long the benefits truly become noticeable. Common examples of such benefits include greater energy levels throughout the day, improved digestion, more restorative sleep, and less aches and pains, and so forth.
Dr. Felipe: According to your book, the most pervasive high acid-forming foods in the modern diet are carbohydrates. People should restrict these foods, if they are intent on balancing their pH (and losing weight). Specifically, under refined carbohydrates, you list bagels, biscuits, croissants, bread, sugar (including brown sugar), cakes, corn flakes, farina, noodles, brownies, cookies, corn syrup, croutons, crackers (including saltines), cupcakes, donuts, ice cream, pies, puddings, jams, jellies, pasta, pancakes, pastries, pizza, potato or tortilla chips, and waffles as highly acid forming. Is that a fair assessment?
Larry: Yes. And unfortunately, these are precisely the kinds of foods that are so prevalent in the so-called standard American diet, which goes a long way towards explaining why our nation is afflicted by so many chronic degenerative diseases. Since you mentioned sugar, Iíd like to point out that sugar substitutes such as honey and maple syrup are not as acid forming, and that organic sucanat, brown rice syrup and molasses are alkalizing. Additionally, such sweeteners are more mineral-rich than the sugars that are so common in our standard diet, and itís the mineral content of foods that is one of the primary factors that differentiates whether foods have an alkalizing or acidifying effect in the body.
Dr. Felipe: Certainly, excessive carbohydrates, particularly refined carbs, are known to be detrimental to insulin and heart health, but few experts speak to their effect on pH. What exactly do these foods do to tip the balance?
Larry: They create a bigger acid burden inside the body. This, in turn, forces the body to draw upon its alkali mineral stores, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, in an attempt to neutralize acid buildup. Most healthy people can afford to eat carbs so long as they arenít refined and are consumed in moderation. But when refined carbs are eaten on a regular basis, chronic acidity, or acidosis occurs, eventually causing the bodyís supply of alkali mineral stores to significantly diminish. These minerals are primarily stored in the bones, which explains why osteoporosis and other bone conditions are so prevalent in our culture, whereas, as Susan has verified firsthand in her travels and investigation of other cultures around the world, such diseases are virtually nonexistent among peoples whose diets are traditionally alkalizing.
Dr. Felipe: Most protein sources are acid forming according to your table. The high acid-forming proteins are beef, bacon, veal, hard cheese, mozzarella, swordfish, lobster, mussels and shrimp. Can you explain why this is so? Also, people are not about to give up these comfort foods. How do you recommend balancing this acid effect in a meal?
Larry: We discuss the answers to these questions in depth in our book. The short answer is that neither Susan nor I advocate eliminating protein foods from the diet. Despite the health claims made by proponents of vegetarianism, research shows that few people are suited to such diets, and that for the majority of people optimal health depends on a daily supply of protein-rich foods. The problem is that, in our culture, many people are consuming too much protein foods each day. Excessive protein adds to the bodyís acidic burden just as refined and excessive carbs do. The solution is to make sure that you always include lots of alkalizing foods, especially green vegetables and so forth, with your meats, fish and poultry dishes, and to limit the size of your protein portions. For most people, a healthy portion equates to the size of their fist. Anything above that is usually too much.
Ideally, each meal should consist of between 60 to 80 percent alkalizing foods, and only 20 to 40 percent acidifying foods. Susan and I realize that most people are not going to drastically change their eating habits, no matter the scientific evidence that might encourage them to do so. Thatís why our book provides so many food charts and tables that contain our nationís most commonly eaten foods. Using the charts makes it easy for anyone to create predominantly alkalizing meals without having to make too many changes in their eating habits.
Dr. Felipe: While whole grains and many animal products (e.g., chicken, eggs, pork) are also acid forming, they are not as bad as white flour and red meat, according to your food tables. Some of these foods are nutrient rich and healthful in many respects, so itís a relief that they are not highly acid forming. What about organic varieties of these foods? Are organic eggs or chicken any less acid-forming, or organic beef for that matter? One would think that a pasture-raised animal would produce far less acid. Certainly, it is far less inflammatory.
Larry: Organic food choices are always the best bet when it comes to healthy eating. Not only do organic foods contain a higher amount of beneficial nutrients, they are also free of the various additives, including dyes, antibiotics, growth hormones, and other factors that much commercially grown and raised foods contain. All such additives create further acidity in the body, not to mention the many other unhealthy effects they have.
Dr. Felipe: What makes fried food so acid forming? And, what does browning or charring foods do to their pH effect?
Larry: These types of cooking methods literally change the chemical composition of foods, making them more difficult to digest and significantly increasing their acidifying effects in the body. In fact, one of the primary reasons browned, charred, and/or fried foods produce inflammation in the body is because of the acidosis that they cause. The interrelationship between acidosis and inflammation is discussed early on in our book because the cooking methods you mention are so common in our culture.
Dr. Felipe: I was doing all right until I came upon chocolate in your table. It would have been heaven if it was alkalizing but, alas, it is highly acid forming (as is espresso coffee, another one of my favorites). If these foods are kept to a minimum (one mouthful per day), how much of a high alkaline-forming food, like lime juice or mineral water, would neutralize this small amount?
Larry: I love chocolate too, Phil, and as Iím sure you know, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that chocolate is actually a health food. Similar benefits are also being found for coffee. Again, moderation is the key. I recommend that people who choose to indulge themselves with a bit of chocolate (and for me that means more than a mouthful) simply increase the amount of alkalizing foods they eat for a few days. As for how much alkalizing foods or drinks are needed to maintain balance, that depends on the overall health, including acid-alkaline balance, of the individual in question. Obviously, the more acidic a person is, the more alkalizing foods he or she should consume.
Dr. Felipe: Forget about it, Larry! Giving up coffee is out of the question. However, I donít mind switching to alkaline-forming green or herbal tea after my first cup of coffee. On a daily basis, could these hot beverages offset one another?
Larry: Yes, especially if you also drink adequate amounts of healthy water throughout the day.
Dr. Felipe: I took the liberty of making a table of selected foods from your extensive food tables, mostly to contrast foods within a category that have extreme opposing effects on pH balance. My next few questions will work off this table. Of course, your food tables are far more detailed, and distinguish among mild, medium and high acid or alkaline foods. I included a few mild and medium foods as well in the table, to feed the curiosity of my readers. However, this is only a small sampling.
Selected Food Categories Containing Foods With Opposing Acid-Alkaline Effects
*medium acid- or alkaline-forming **mild acid- or alkaline-forming
Dr. Felipe: First of all, I made this chart because I believe that the real problems and solutions rest at the extremes. Foods that are mildly acid forming, like stevia, Swiss chard, spinach, peas, tomatoes, black tea, balsamic vinegar, milk, beans, butter, clams, dates, figs, prunes, and mayonnaise arenít so much the problem when it comes to pH balance. It is more so the prevalence of carbs and meat, I presume, that really tilts the balance. Yes? No?
Larry: What it really comes down to is the overall percentage of alkalizing and acidifying foods we eat during the day. For example, red meat, as you pointed out, is highly acidifying. I happen to enjoy eating red meat on occasion and have no intention of eliminating it from my diet. So when I consume a food such as red meat that I know is highly acidifying, I limit myself to a moderate portion and increase the amount of alkalizing vegetables I eat with that meal. It really isnít difficult to enjoy the foods we like while still eating in a way that improves the bodyís pH values.
Dr. Felipe: With regard to vinegars, it looks like umeboshi and apple cider are the way to go. Vinegar is known for its many health benefits and practical uses. Yet, should we consider using only alkaline-forming vinegars for all these purposes?
Larry: I tend to shy away from ďonly useĒ recommendations. Different vinegars add different flavors to food dishes, so enjoy the ones you like. Again, it comes down to moderation and seeing that the overall composition of your meals is alkalizing.
Dr. Felipe: The nut thing is a bit hard to fathom. Walnuts are on the top of my list for health benefits, yet they are high acid forming. On the other hand, chestnuts and cashews are alkaline forming, but do not pack the same nutritional punch. Please advise.
Larry: I agree with you that nuts in general are very healthy and nutritious foods even though walnuts and a few other nuts are acidifying. So I recommend them as healthy snacks and so forth. Given the high quality nutritional benefits that walnuts provide, I wouldnít be too concerned about eating them regularly. Like any other food that is acidifying, just be sure that you eat enough alkalizing foods to buffer whatever acid is produced when walnuts are eaten.
Dr. Felipe: Most people know that berries are super foods. Should people eat them regularly with acid-forming foods to neutralize the pH effect?
Larry: Actually, I think berries should be eaten away from other meals for the most part, since they are so quickly digested by the body, while other foods take much longer to be digested. But yes, I definitely recommend making berries a part of oneís daily diet due to the many healthy benefits they provide.
Dr. Felipe: Your tables indicate that all seeds, except cottonseed, are alkaline forming, with pumpkin seeds being the only high alkaline former. What a pleasant surprise! I bought a pound of organic, raw (shelled) pumpkin seeds on the cheap, added some sea salt, and now I canít stop eating them. Are the known health benefits of seeds connected to this alkaline-forming effect?
Larry: Definitely so, at least to some extent, because all alkalizing foods help to support the bodyís health. But seeds are also very rich in many different nutrients that are also vital to health. Pumpkin seeds, for example, are good sources of zinc, which is why they are often recommended to men to support the health of the prostate gland. While alkalizing foods are good for the body, I donít recommend that we make a foodís effect on pH the sole criteria for whether or not we choose to eat it. As your questions indicate, many acidifying foods offer a wealth of health benefits, so Iím all in favor of including them in oneís diet. Ideally, the key is to create meals that have an overall alkalizing effect on the body and also contain nutrient rich foods that the body can make use of in many other ways.
Dr. Felipe: I really canít believe how acid forming soy products are. Only the fermented forms (miso, tamari) are alkaline forming. Forget about replacing cowís milk with soy milk (cowís milk is only mildly acidic). In contrast, whey protein powder is mildly alkalizing. Is whey a better choice than soy powders for added protein?
Larry: I personally do not believe that non-fermented soy products are healthy for most people, and therefore do not recommend them. So yes, I definitely recommend whey over soy as a source of healthy protein. I also find it interesting that Asian cultures, where fermented soy foods are used, generally have lower incidences of chronic degenerative disease compared to the U.S. At least, this was the case until fairly recently. Now, indications are that the same types of illnesses are on the increase in Asia and have been ever since traditional Asian eating habits started to be replaced with eating habits more akin to the standard American diet.
Dr. Felipe: Hereís my favorite topic. Sea salt is highly alkalizing, while iodized table salt is highly acid forming. I use only sea salt, but not the white (leached out) stuff. A good sea salt is grey looking. Iím a big salt freak, and I am not happy that the ďfood policeĒ are lumping all salts together as bad for you. What is your take on all this?
Larry: I completely agree with you. Salt as it is found in nature is very healthy. One of the reasons this is so is because sea salt contains a wealth of trace minerals that are essential for good health. The problem, as you pointed out, is that common table salt no longer contains these trace minerals. The ďfood policeĒ and other advocates of salt-free or low-salt diets are ignoring this important point. It is not salt that is bad; itís the adulterated salt that most people use, which is a completely different story.
Dr. Felipe: What about lite salt? Lite salt typically contains potassium chloride, effectively cutting the sodium content in half. But is this the right form of potassium to be ingesting? What are your thoughts on supplementing with other forms of potassium (citrate, gluconate) to help alkalize the body?
Larry: Susan and I point out in our book that potassium supplements are very useful for helping to restore acid-alkaline balance in the body. Additionally, many people unknowingly are deficient in potassium, as well as other minerals, so potassium and other mineral supplements can be very useful for regaining and maintaining good health. As for lite salt products Ė- they may be an improvement on common table salt, but I prefer sea salt due to its much higher composition of important trace minerals.
Dr. Felipe: I donít often recommend potatoes to people who are trying to lose weight, but maybe an occasional baked potato with skin or a yam canít hurt, given their alkalizing effects. Sweet potatoes are especially alkaline forming and full of nutrients. Perhaps this is a better way to load up on carbs before physical activity than with pasta or French fries. Do you agree?
Larry: Overall yes, though most people would do well to limit their overall consumption of starchy foods. That said, yams, sweet potatoes, and potatoes with their skins intact are healthy foods and certainly far more nutritious than refined carbs.
Dr. Felipe: For summer refreshments, I highly recommend alkaline-forming fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, and pineapple, rather than highly acid-forming soft drinks, diet or otherwise, or milk shakes. Did I mention the difference in calories as well? What is it about soft drinks that make them so acidic?
Larry: Where do I begin? The short answer is that soft drinks are essentially poisonous to the body. Donít drink them.
Dr. Felipe: Maybe we are not accounting for peopleís addictions. However, you mentioned that being in pH balance energizes the body to help people get off the carb and caffeine kick. However, some high alkaline-forming foods are full of carbs. I guess some carbs are better than others.
Larry: Thereís no need to guess, Phil. Some carbs definitely are better than others as the charts and tables in our book make clear. The unhealthiest carbs, as weíve discussed, are refined carbs, which unfortunately are very prevalent in many people's diets. Overall, carbs from whole grains are much healthier choices, as are yams, potatoes, and fruits.
Dr. Felipe: Regarding flour, only oat flour is alkalizing. What foods do you recommend here, particularly breakfast foods?
Larry: While itís true that only oat flour is alkalizing, certain other flours, such as amaranth, buckwheat and millet, are only mildly acidifying so people really have a number of options when it comes to using flour. As for breakfast foods, there are many options available. I personally like to start my day with some protein, so a typical breakfast for me might start with a glass of fruit juice followed twenty minutes later by a vegetable omelet (minus cheese) or a small serving of chicken with green vegetables. For people who like cereal for breakfast, puffed brown rice cereal with almond milk is a nice option.
Dr. Felipe: On a day-to-day basis, how can a person gauge the pH effects of their diet?
Larry: An early indication of pH imbalance is increased respiratory rate. Another is body odor, from all the strong acids excreted through the skin. The more acidic an individualís body becomes, the more fatigue, inflammation and infection may be experienced. One can monitor the effects of an ďalkalizingĒ diet by these yardsticks. It is also easy to measure daily changes in acid-alkaline balance by testing the pH of the first morning void urine. How do to so is explained in my book.
Dr. Felipe: Frankly, most people I show the list of high acid- and alkaline-forming foods are disappointed. They wonder how anyone could forgo all the tasty foods for boring or disgusting ones. I'm sure you are familiar with the problem.
Larry: I agree that this is a common reaction. However, as I said earlier, Iím not suggesting that people stop eating the foods they enjoy. Rather, Iím recommending that they try to eat meals that have an overall alkalizing effect on their bodies. As my book shows, this isnít difficult to do and, aside from unhealthy junk foods, which are highly acidifying, does not require eliminating most foods that people enjoy. By no means am I advocating a diet of nuts, seeds and sprouts. In fact, Susan and I even included a fast food table so that people who live on such foods can at least minimize their acidifying effects.
Dr. Felipe: The way I see it, people are not about to give up their comfort foods and addictions. That's why I advocate dietary supplements to help support the health of people with bad habits. It may not be ideal, but it's much easier to pop a pill for health. Certainly, I would rather they pop nutrients than drugs. What dietary supplements do you recommend for pH balance?
Larry: I agree that dietary supplements are important for good health. The fact of the matter is that even if we are able to obtain organic foods for all of our meals, todayís food supply does not contain the same abundance of essential nutrients that the foods are ancestors ate did. This is primarily due to the fact that the mineral content of our farmlands has been diminishing since the early 20th century. Without rich mineral content, farmlands are unable to yield crops that are as nutrient rich as crops grown a century ago. Therefore, nutritional supplementation is very important for maintaining good health.
There are a number of supplements that can be used to balance the bodyís pH levels, and this too is discussed in The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide. Some of the most effective supplements in this area are magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin D. Multi-mineral formulas can be very helpful for this purpose too, as can green drink powders.
Dr. Felipe: Obviously, you prefer natural over synthetic supplements, but indulge me for a bit. Which mineral supplements work, and which do not work to alkalize the body?
Larry: The key to choosing mineral supplements that help to alkalize the body is to look for organic sources of these minerals, since the organic forms are preferable as alkalizers. Beyond that, I recommend that people monitor their morning urine pH level on a regular basis to see whether the minerals and other supplements they are taking are resulting in a shift towards alkalinity. If they are, then the urine testing should reflect this within a few days to a week.
Dr. Felipe: How long will it take to reach a steady alkaline state?
Larry: The answer to this question depends on the health of each person to begin with. Obviously, the more acidic a person is prior to beginning to eat meals that are predominantly alkalizing, the longer it will take for him or her to achieve acid-alkaline balance. In general, however, if people faithfully follow the recommendations in my book, they will begin to notice their pH shifting within a few days, just as you have. This is one of the reasons we recommend using pH strips to monitor morning urine. As people see their pH values improving, they are more apt to stick with the program, as it were.
Dr. Felipe: I want to thank you and Dr. Brown for providing an accessible and practical guide to a healthier diet.
Larry: My pleasure.
Reference: Susan E. Brown & Larry Trivieri, Jr., The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide, SquareOne Publishers, Garden City Park, NY, 2006
About the authorDr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.
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