Source / Author(s): The Washington Post
The pH of our urine varies widely, as our urinary tract is on the front line of keeping our bodies in acid-base balance. Animal protein, grains, soda, beer and sodium all produce high acid loads for our kidneys to process. That acid can be neutralized by the potassium and minerals from fruits and vegetables, but if we don’t get enough of those alkaline foods, our urine can wind up chronically acidic, which can contribute to kidney stones and necessitate that our bones’ stores of neutralizing minerals be continually tapped, ultimately depleting and weakening them.
But the acid-base equation is only part of the bone-health story, and research has been mixed as to how an alkaline diet affects our bones. Besides plenty of acid-balancing potassium and minerals needed to spare their stores, healthy bones also depend on adequate protein. Strict alkaline diets may limit protein-rich foods because of their acid effect, which is a negative for bone health. Focusing on boosting your produce consumption while getting enough protein appears to be the better path to take.
Although there is some solid science indicating that pH matters, many of the benefits touted by alkaline diet proponents, such as healthier bones, reduced risk of chronic disease and weight loss, can be directly traced to the well-known dietary advice to consume more colorful produce and vegetable protein and fewer fatty meats, sweets, refined carbs and sugary drinks. The alkaline diet may sound cutting-edge and innovative, but the most sensible versions boil down to the same advice found in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
If considering the pH impact of your food helps you focus on improving your eating habits, then go for it. But remember to keep it in perspective. Many of these plans categorize foods as good (alkaline) or bad (acidic) without taking into account overall nutritional balance. And there is always a risk in taking just a single factor into account when making food decisions. Going by acid-alkaline value alone (you can find a list on acidalkalinediet.com), you’d deem white bread better for you than shrimp, for example, and mushrooms on par with sugar. Clearly, the pH of a food does not tell the whole story.
Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. She blogs and offers a biweekly newsletter at elliekrieger.com. She also writes weekly Nourish recipes in The Washington Post’s Food section.