Monday, December 22, 2008

Is an Alkaline Diet the Holy Grail?

pH and Dietary Direction
(adapted from a paper I wrote for my one of my courses)

Dietary direction is a term used to describe the cumulative effect of the individual foods that we consume. Each food potentially has a different result on the pH of the body--they are said to be "acid-forming" or "alkaline-forming." This may be different from the pH the actual food has: lemons are an acidic food that have an alkalizing effect on the body. If a food has an alkaline effect, it is generally considered catabolic or cleansing. These are usually plant foods and most ferments, though a few animal foods are in the low alkaline-forming category (e.g. duck and quail eggs). A food that has an acid effect is ususally considered anabolic or building in the body. These are often animal foods, but include quite a few plant foods, especially grains, legumes and most oils. Some foods tend to be neutral, or balancing in effect. Most refined foods are usually considered to be acidic, such as white bread, noodles, sugar, cereal, refined fruit juice. In general these foods are not anabolic, but catabolic--yet not in the sense of being cleansing foods either. They are destructive, rather than "breaking down in order to clean house."

To determine the dietary direction of a meal or overall diet one would assess each food and add the effects of the group. For this to be representative for one's diet over time it would be best to look at at least a week of normal eating (in other words, not during unusual times such as travel or holidays). One way to describe the general pH balance is to look as the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat. In general, the alkaline foods are carbohydrates and acidic foods are protein and fat, but in reality there is more nuance, as looking at a detailed chart would show. For example, if most of one's carbohydrates came from grains, that would skew the grouping scheme below, because the alkaline category must assume that the carbs are mostly from fruits and vegetables to consider carbs predominantly alkaline. If we instead look at each food's pH impact in the body, we might come to different conclusions.

An approximate guideline (given the above caveat) for each category:
Alkaline: 70-80% Carb 10-15% protein 10-15% fat
Neutral: 50-60% Carb 20-25% protein 20-25% fat
Acid: 40% carb 30% protein 30% fat

Sample Day:
Breakfast: Tea, eggs, butter, meatloaf, pickled beets,
Lunch: coconut crackers, avocado, pumpkin & squash seeds, tea, yogurt,
Dinner: soup made with kale, onion, carrots, stock, sausage
To see the chart I used to analyze this day's ph, see here.

My sample day tended tended to acidic or anabolic if we use this last rubric. I clearly take the majority of my calories from fats and proteins. This is by design, as I am working on undoing years of health issues including hypoglycemia, allergies and sinus troubles. The anabolic--or building--direction of my diet is healing and soothing to my particular issues.

I was not raised eating this way, though I was raised on a whole foods diet. Rather, my family was Macrobiotic for many years, eating a primarily grain-based diet. I eventually became a professional baker and pastry chef, again eating a predominantly grain-based (and mostly vegetarian) diet for many years. I did not know it at the time, but this diet did not suit my constitution, as evidenced by my illnesses and added digestive troubles. Still, I did not see the connection until one of my children had such severe digestive problems (ulcerative colitis) that I was driven to find a solution and stumbled upon the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Using the SCD (and now the GAPS refinements of it) I found the key to my former ill health--a diet full of starches and sugars, albeit "natural" ones.

On the other hand, if we look at the individual foods I consumed as compared to the food pH chart prepared by Russell Jaffe, we can see a different picture. According to this understanding, my breakfast was Low Acid in effect, my lunch was Low Alkaline and my dinner Neutral, giving an overall neutral effect. I find this very interesting, because I am in what is essentially a maintenance phase of my diet, not really looking to build or cleanse at the moment. So the neutrality of the dietary direction is fitting. Though this is anecdotal, I have noticed on some of the GAPS discussion boards that the mothers describe their children eating massive amounts of meat, broth and fat at the beginning stage (when the healing is most critical and active) and tapering off to a more neutral diet, including many vegetables, which the children would never have eaten before taking starches out of the diet. In other words, the diets become more balanced, more neutral, as healing occurs. And this is children essentially selecting their own foods out of what is offered.

It is definitely important to understand the balance in one's diet (or the lack of it). This can be used to guide the food selections as circumstances change. It is also important to know what definitions we are using to describe our subject, and to use our own experience and intuition to guide our choices. I can see that it would be very easy to choose a path "by the numbers" and stick rigidly to it, either because it has been recommended by someone we trust or because it sounds compelling. There is a lot of information (and misinformation) available on the Internet about "cleansing" diets and regimes and some people choose them the way others choose antibacterial soap, assuming that we are all dirty and need to be cleaned up. The reality is again more nuanced: we are all different and have subtly different dietary needs. This is the basis of the concept of "biochemical individuality." We must use guidelines such as the ideas of pH balance in foods and food effects with the proverbial "grain of salt." This concept can be part of a larger set of principles by which we guide our "dietary direction."

Bartholomy, Paula. Class Lecture. MHNE 606. Hawthorn University. 2008.
Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: New Trends, 2005.
Haas, Elson. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkley: Celestial Arts, 1992.
Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.
Jaffe, Russell. "Food & Chemical Effects on Acid / Alkaline Body Chemical Balance." Sterling, VA: Health Studies Collegium, 2007.
Worthington, Virginia. "Acid-Alkaline Balance and Your Health". Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation: 1997-2008. <>

Addendum: I came across this on one of my discussion groups, and am including it because it speaks to the controversy mentioned above (if it is yours, I apologize for not giving you attribution--let me know who you are and I will gladly):

"The "acidic ash" question is really interesting and I've never seen a good answer to it. The people who publish the "acidic" tables, it seems, rate foods
based on how they affect their urine. If their urine goes acidic, then the food is assumed to be "acidic".

Now, this COULD be because the food has "ash" products that tend toward acidic. Like phosphates. And the "alkaline" foods tend to be ones with calcium
or potassium. By that standard, kraut is alkaline.

But fermented foods also have lactic acid, and one of the two isomers of lactic acid is not usually used by the body: it is excreted. In fact, if a huge
amount of it is ingested (or produced in the body, as it sometimes is in cows) it can be toxic. Usually though, it doesn't cause any harm, and lacto-fermented
foods are associated with better healthy.

Ingesting lactic acid though, will tend to make your urine acidic. It won't make your blood acidic unless you have major health problems.

So, lacking a good definition of what "acidic" and "alkaline" foods really are (if someone can enlighten me I'd love to hear such a definition), I came up with my own: "alkaline" foods are ones with calcium, potassium, or magnesium, which we tend not to get enough of. Eating greens and
veggies and fruits gives you these. Eating starches and sugars tend to cause bacterial/yeast overgrowth, which is bad (and can cause acid production
in the gut, which might be why those foods got labelled "acidic" .. but also whole grains can block absorption of cal/mag)."

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Help me Change America (free Raw Milk from it's chains!)

One of the ideas on Obama's site is Legalize (Raw) Milk. It needs a lot more votes to go into the next round of consideration. You can see it and can comment at the bottom of the page. Add your voice!
The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration. So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.
Get involved! It takes very little of your time to be heard . . .

Posted via email from justine's posterous

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grass is best! Edison knew, and we should too . . .

Thomas A. Edison

(Image via wikimedia)

The famous inventor who didn't actually invent the light bulb, Edison shunned religious dogma but held nature sacrosanct. "Until a man duplicates a blade of grass, Nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge. Remedies from chemicals will never stand in favorable comparison with the products of Nature, the living cell of a plant, the final result of the rays of the sun, the mother of all life."

see entire piece at

Posted via email from justine's posterous

Friday, December 12, 2008

You Should Know: Kristof to Obama: "We need a Secretary of Food"

This is the best article I have seen so far analyzing the desperate need we have for Obama to choose wisely as he picks a Secretary of Agriculture (and commentary on why even that name should be changed)

Posted via email from justine's posterous

Saturday, December 6, 2008

You Should Know: Food Raid in Ohio

An example of how our food freedom is threatened.  Good links in the comments section.

Posted via email from justine's posterous

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let Us Now Braise Famous Hens

So last evening, too late as usual, I was pondering the dinner situation. I had taken a chicken out of the freezer in the morning, but hadn't checked either how many would be here for dinner or what other provisions I had in store. I often do this, and usually it works out rather well. Or at least I imagine it does--but don't ask my children, they complain about the food as a matter of course.

Unfortunately, as I noticed the hour I also observed a few too many bodies in the house. And one still frosty chicken on the counter. A mental struggle ensued--to roast or make soup? Roast chicken may be my family's overall favorite meal, one I can make and expect happy smiles and empty plates. Soup may be one of my family's least favorite meals, accompanied by the aforementioned complaints or (if I am lucky) just blank stares. As any cook knows, though, soup makes one chicken feed a lot more people. Just add veggies to stretch.

I faced facts: one roasted chicken would mean complaints anyway, as everyone in my family expects seconds. I rummaged through the fridge, resigned to making soup, when a sad container of forgotten mushrooms caught my eye. That's it! "I'll make some hunter's style thing" I thought. A braise! "Let us now braise famous hens" I actually said out loud. Ok, so my kids already think I am weird, but if you don't get the reference, don't feel bad, because it's pretty old--from the New Deal era. It is pertinent, though, because we are getting a small taste of the insecurity of those times today, and some of the lessons and tools our grandparents used to muddle through could be of use now.

Braises feed more than roasts, but more elegantly than soup. First, I cut the chicken into pieces, making two parts out of each breast. I suppose there's a perfect way to do that, but I just cut at the joints and it works fine. Then I browned the chicken in some duck fat I had in the fridge (bacon fat would have served just as well, but we happen to be out of bacon), added some cheap red wine and some stock and set that pan to simmering. In another pan, I sauteed some onions, added the mushrooms (sliced) and some garlic. I did the two-pan thing to get ahead, because this way the chicken was thawing/ cooking while I worked with the veggies, which I then added to the chicken. Not classic technique, but functional. I might have added some thyme and black pepper. I threw in some olives--not hunter-ish, but they were winking at me when I grabbed the duck fat. Everything simmered for a bit less than an hour, with the stock and wine cooking down into a lovely sauce. Even I had been concerned for a bit that it looked too much like soup, so I cooked it with the lid only partially covering.

And, it worked. Not the only the braise, but the tactic. Every bit was eaten with gusto, and no kvetching about "not enough." I made a salad, put out some lactofermented veg (I think it was a French cabbage salad that was left over and so left to turn into a sort of garlicky "kraut"--nothing goes to waste here) and we all ate well.

In big families or in lean times, knowing how to make the food we have feed us all is paramount. I imagine FDR's "chicken in every pot" was probably braised (or stewed). A famous hen, indeed.
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