XTERRA Nutrition - Eating the Alkaline Way
By Alexandra Borrelly
As the weather begins to change and we move towards cooler days, many of us are changing our diets as well. Cooling summer foods like melons, berries, and cucumbers are being replaced with root vegetables, apples, and heartier greens. We may turn to soups instead of salads and choose brown rice instead of quinoa.
Luckily, one of the healthiest ways to eat also follows the change in seasons, making it simple to get the best nutrients without having to count calories or grams of protein.
The Alkaline Diet is focused on eating foods that neutralize and balance the body’s pH level, for optimal function and health. Because nature provides the perfect market, as long as we eat what grows in the ground or on a tree, we can rest assured that we are balancing our body’s pH.
Why does pH matter? Because every cell – in nature or in our bodies – functions best when at an optimal pH. In our human bodies, the net pH of our bodies is strictly regulated by our kidneys. The optimal pH is neutral, or about 7 to 8 on a scale of 0 – 14. The more acidic a solution is, the lower the pH. The more alkaline a solution is, the higher the pH.
Normally, the kidneys maintain electrolyte levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. When we’re exposed to overly acidic substances, these electrolytes are used to combat acidity.
However, if we add in in too much salt, sugar, and stress, and not enough calcium, potassium, and magnesium, the kidneys begin to lose the battle, leading to a pH level in the body that is too acidic. As a result, this acidity forces our bodies to rob minerals from the bones, cells, organs and tissues. This causes inflammation in the body and lowers bone density. Chronic acidosis has also been found to contribute to chronic back pain, inflammation, joint pain, and fractures.
So how can we ensure we are keeping our body’s pH as close to neutral as possible? Luckily, we only need to follow one rule: Eat Plants.
Across the board, vegetables and fruits are the most alkaline foods we can consume. For more detailed information, there is an index called the PRAL Index that measures the power of each food to neutralize acids. It stands for Potential Renal Acid Load. The higher the number a food is assigned, the more acidic that food is. The lower the number the more alkaline the food is, with the power to neutralize naturally occurring acids.
Meats, cheeses, dairy, sugary, and high-sodium foods all cause the body to drift towards a higher acidity. Plants, in their unprocessed form, help the body return to a more neutral pH.
The PRAL Index is helpful because it can eliminate confusion when foods are acidic to taste (like lemons) but also very alkalizing and beneficial to the inner tissues. In the case of lemons, it can be useful to sip lemon water through a straw to get the alkalizing benefits without the acidic effects on your teeth or tongue. Similarly, meat has many minerals but has an acidifying effect on the body.
Like everything in life, it’s all about balance and listening to your body. Some athletes prefer a plant-based diet while others feel better with animal protein. The Alkaline Diet philosophy can be applied to any form of eating, as long as the bulk of your diet comes from fruits and vegetables.
For more information, you can read a scientific paper about the effects of food on pH by Thomas Remer, PhD, and Friedrich Manz, MD at www.direct-ms.org.
Alexandra Borrelly Lebrun is a pharmacist and has studied sports nutrition and natural medicine. She works alongside her husband, a former professional XTERRA athlete & 2005 XTERRA World Champ, Nico Lebrun, at Organicoach, where they create optimized nutrition plans for athletes of all levels.