What does it mean to be alkaline?
Alkalinity and acidity are measured in units of pH. Acids have a low pH, below 7. Alkalis have a high pH, above 7. Maintaining pH within a very narrow range is critically important to every biochemical process in every cell in the human body. Cells in different tissues operate at very slightly different pH levels, but the over balance of acid and alkaline is very tightly controlled by the kidneys.
Why are alkaline foods important? The modern Western diet of highly processed foods keeps almost all of us in a constant state of acidosis. This excessive acidity in the body as a whole does not cause any symptoms that a physician would recognize and treat, but even in the healthiest people, eating lots of high-protein, highly processed foods leads to:
- Slower degradation and increased levels of stress hormones, especially when there is a lot of salt in the diet,
- Mild deficiency in thyroid hormone conversion and resulting weight gain and fatigue, and
- Resistance insulin-like growth factor 1 and growth hormone, which are essential to maintaining muscle tissue.
When people struggle with cancer, the effects of excess acid loom even more insidious. The kidneys require two nutrients to neutralize acids, calcium and glutamine. Excess acid "leaches" calcium from bone so it the kidneys can use it to make alkalis. Weak bones are more vulnerable to metastatic cancer.
How the kidneys fight acidity by destroying healthy tissues
The kidneys utilize the amino acid glutamine to neutralize the acid formed by the breakdown of protein in the digestive process. The skeletal muscles serve as the body's biggest reserve of glutamine. Muscle protein is broken down when excessive protein is consumed in an acidifying diet—canceling out the benefits of the protein in the meal!
This is how the body becomes acidic. The process of digestion breaks most of the food we eat into its chemical components. All of those chemicals eventually travel to the kidneys, where they stimulate the production of alkali (high pH) or acids (low pH). At the end of digestion, all the various chemicals digested from food together have a net effect that is either alkalizing or acidifying. How much pH gets out of balance depends not just on whether an acidifying or alkalizing food was eaten, but how acidifying or alkalizing the food was, and how much was eaten. This means that meat and cheese are not necessarily "poisonous" if they eaten in small amounts and balanced with greens and fruit
What makes foods acid or alkaline
Acid-alkali balance at the end of digestion can be predicted by the mineral content of food:
- If a food contains lots of chlorides, phosphorous, sulfates, or organic acids, it stimulates the formation of acid.
- If a food chemical contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, or sodium, it stimulates the formation of alkali.
The foods that stimulate the greatest production of acid are aged cheeses (especially low-fat cheeses), sausages, lunchmeat, tinned meat products, eggs, and, surprisingly, brown rice and oats. The foods that stimulate the greatest alkali production are dried fruits (especially raisins and prunes), leafy greens, salad green, fruit, and most vegetables.
The advice for cancer patients used to be that if a food formed alkalis, eat it, and if it formed acids, don't eat it. The problem with this general principle is that almost all protein foods and all the whole grains are acid-forming. Protein is primary for recovery from cancer.
Do cancer patients have to eat only alkaline foods?
Fortunately, cancer patients can eat small servings of protein-rich, acidifying foods and still enjoy the benefits of a net-alkaline diet. You just need to know the relative acid-forming and alkali-forming powers of the foods you eat to eat them in the right balance.
At the foot of this article there is a table of 110 common foods adapted from the work of two German scientists named Remer and Manz. Every food is marked with a score that is above zero or below zero. A score above zero means it acidifies. A score below zero means that it is alkalizing.
As you can see in the chart below, some foods form a lot more acid or a lot more alkali than others. A one-ounce serving of spinach, for example, more than cancels out the acidifying potential of a one-ounce serving of chicken, beef, brown rice, or even salami (not that this is a recommendation that cancer patients should eat salami). Cancer patients can safely eat some high-protein, acid-forming foods, as long as the overall diet is kept in balance.
Use the acid-alkaline chart to make simple choices
Don't worry about having to eat with a calculator at the dining table. Use this table to make precise acid-base computations if you like, but, in general, just eat more foods with a negative score than foods with a positive score. Or if you know you can only hold down some meat or cheese and you just can't eat leafy greens, take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of supplemental glutamine to give your kidneys the alkalizing power they need to take care of high-protein food without stripping calcium from your bones or glutamine from your muscles.
A few precautions for taking glutamine supplements are in order. If have an MSG sensitivity, don't take glutamine, since they can the body can turn glutamine into MSG. If you take medication for seizures or bipolar disorder, don't take MSG, since it can stimulate production of glutamates in the brain. If you are diabetic, limit yourself to 5,000 mg of supplemental glutamine a day, because your body may not completely metabolize it.
What about eating the whole grains so often recommended for recovery from cancer? Whole grains form acid, but they are also a source of glutamine that helps the kidneys expel acid. Nonetheless, even the healthiest whole grains should be eaten in moderation and they should always be balanced with fruits and vegetables.
Food or Food Group PRAL Score Parmesan Cheese 34.2 Velveeta and Other Processed Cheeses 28.7 Low-Fat Cheddar Cheese 26.4 Average for Hard and High-Protein Cheeses 23.6 Egg Yolks 23.4 Hard Cheese 19.2 Gouda Cheese 18.6 Corned Beef (Canned) 13.2 Brown Rice 12.5 Liverwurst 11.6 Salami 11.6 Trout 10.8 Oatmeal 10.7 Lunch Meat 10.2 Veal 9.9 Average for All Meats 9.5 Turkey 9 Rump Steak 8.8 Chicken 8.7 Cottage Cheese 8.7 Peanuts 8.3 Whole Eggs 8.2 Average for Soft, Low-Protein Cheeses 8 Lean Pork 7.9 Average for All Fish 7.9 Lean Beef 7.8 Whole Grain Spaghetti 7.3 Cod 7.1 Herring 7 Haddock 6.8 Walnuts 6.8 Hot Dogs (without Bun) 6.7 Average for All Noodles 6.7 White Spaghetti 6.5 Egg Noodles 6.4 Cornflakes 6 Average for All Desserts 4.3 Mixed Grain Rye Bread 4.1 Rye Bread 4 Cake 3.7 Mixed Grain Wheat Bread 3.7 White Bread 3.7 Average for All Breads 3.5 Lentils 3.5 Rye Crackers 3.3 Milk Chocolate 2.4 Wheat Bread 1.8 Whole Milk Yogurt with Fruit 1.7 White Rice 1.7 Whole Milk Yogurt, Plain 1.5 Sour Cream 1.2 Average for Beans and Legumes 1.2 Peas 1.2 Egg Whites 1.1 Raw Whole Milk 1.1 Average for All Dairy Products except Cheese 1 Pale Beer 0.9 Pasteurized Whole Milk 0.7 Ice Cream 0.6 Butter 0.6 Buttermilk 0.5 Coca Cola 0.4 Average for All Fats and Oils 0 Olive Oil 0 Sunflower Oil 0 White Sugar -0.1 Stout Beer -0.1 Draft Beer -0.2 Honey -0.3 Tea -0.3 Asparagus -0.4 Hot Cocoa -0.4 Margarine -0.5 Cucumber -0.8 Grape Juice -1 Broccoli -1.2 White Wine -1.2 Mushrooms -1.4 Peppers -1.4 Coffee -1.4 Marmalade -1.5 Onions -1.5 Average for All Beverages -1.7 Leeks -1.8 Mineral Water -1.8 Watermelon -1.9 Endive and Radicchio -2 Apple Juice -2.2 Apples -2.2 Strawberries -2.2 Red Wine -2.4 Lettuce -2.5 Lemon Juice -2.5 Zucchini -2.6 Pineapple -2.7 Average for All Vegetables -2.8 Tomato Juice -2.8 Hazelnuts -2.8 Orange Juice -2.9 Pears -2.9 Tomatoes -3.1 Average for All Fruits and Nuts -3.1 Green Beans -3.1 Eggplant -3.4 Cherries -3.6 Radishes -3.7 Cauliflower -4 Potatoes -4 Kiwis -4.1 Apricots -4.8 Carrots -4.9 Celery -5.2 Bananas -5.5 Black Currants -6.5 Spinach, Kale, Collards, and Other Leafy Greens -14 Raisins -21