Acidic foods are those that typically have a pH of 4.6 or lower. Experts are divided on whether acidic foods actually induce metabolic acidosis in a healthy body. According to one school of thought, excessive consumption of acidic foods may be linked to poor bone health, urinary stones, and development of diseases such as arthritis.
Some researchers also believe that acidic foods are more likely to produce metabolic acidosis in people with compromised kidney function, a condition characterized by decreased blood levels of bicarbonate, specifically 22 mEq/L.
10 foods high in acid
- Dairy products, including cheese
- Processed foods that are high in sodium, such as packaged crackers
- High-sodium condiments such as soy sauce, steak sauce, and barbecue sauce
- Fresh red meats
- Processed meats
- Starchy foods such as wheat
- Carbonated beverages such as soda
- Drinks that are high in phosphorus (or phosphoric acid) such as beer and hot chocolate made from cocoa
Some acidic foods such as citrus fruits may be acidic based on their pH levels, but they have an alkalizing effect on the body. It is therefore OK to have these fruits daily unless you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—reflux of food from the stomach into the esophagus. Citrus foods are known to trigger GERD.
What is acidity?
Acidity of foods or body fluids is determined by their pH value. The pH values fall between 0 and 14. The lower the pH, the more acidic. The higher the pH, the more alkaline. Some experts believe that having more alkaline foods and beverages and fewer acidic ones can help you prevent the development of chronic diseases including cancer and delay the signs of aging. However, evidence supporting this claim is insufficient.
Your ideal blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline. Your kidneys and lungs work constantly to keep your body pH at this optimal level, irrespective of the food you eat.
- pH of 0: Most acidic
- pH of 7: Neutral
- pH of 14: Most basic, or alkaline
What happens if you develop metabolic acidosis?
Metabolic acidosis may or may not cause any signs and symptoms. If they do occur, they include:
- Fatigue easily
- Mental confusion
- Trouble breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
If metabolic acidosis is not controlled, it can lead to long-term problems that include:
- Bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis (thin, brittle bones)
- Muscle loss
- Hyperglycemia (spike in blood sugar)
- Worsening of existing chronic kidney disease
Can metabolic acidosis be prevented through diet?
Your body has an inherent control mechanism that helps regulate your pH levels. However, metabolic acidosis can occur, especially in people with chronic diabetes or kidney disease. Certain drugs if taken in high doses or for longer durations can also cause metabolic acidosis.
Consuming a moderate amount of acidic foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables is unlikely to cause metabolic acidosis and problems caused by metabolic acidosis.
Healthy habits, such as avoiding carbonated drinks and replacing meat with plant-based sources of protein help prevent too much acidity in the body. Replacing meat with poultry can also help you maintain ideal pH levels of the blood and urine.
Eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables is a great way to maintain a healthy acid-base balance.
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Pizzorno J, Frassetto LA, Katzinger J. Diet-induced acidosis: Is it real and clinically relevant? British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press; 2010;103(8):1185-1194.
Bonjour J-P. Nutritional disturbance in acid–base balance and osteoporosis: A hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney. British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press; 2013;110(7):1168-1177.
Metabolic Acidosis: Resources for Patients. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/metabolic-acidosis/patient
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