Ever since I was a little kid, I have been interested in science. I had dreams of being a marine biologist, and then a pediatrician, and occasionally thought about the idea of being a nutritionist. Ultimately, life led me in the direction of becoming a research chemist and I have spent most of my career working in the field of drug discovery trying to develop new medicines to treat neurological diseases. My love for fitness, health, and wellness also led me to pursue a degree in nutrition and I have spent the last decade researching the science behind nutrition so I could personally determine what is the “best way to eat”. Can anyone even determine that?? If you google a few key words regarding diet or nutrition, chances are you will be inundated with websites completely contradicting each other. Should I do Keto? Paleo? Vegan? Intermittent Fasting? Low calorie? Low carb? AHHHHHHH!!!!!!
One topic of nutrition I have always been interested in is how to use food as medicine. Ironically, I work in the field of developing new pharmaceuticals and in my spare time I try to figure out how to avoid them! 😉 One topic I began researching was the idea of eating alkaline. It made perfect sense – the research chemist trying to figure out how food impacts the chemical processes of our body and if this can have a positive or negative effect on our overall health. Sounds like a thesis in the making! Let me try to break down what “eating alkaline” means.
If you go back to your middle school chemistry lesson on acids and bases, you may remember acids are defined as having a pH < 7 and bases have a pH > 7 and a pH = 7 is defined as neutral. The pH of the blood is exactly 7.41, or slightly basic. Another word for basic is alkaline. So the pH of blood is slightly alkaline. The pH of the blood cannot change even a little bit. Sometimes there is misinformation about food making the blood acidic but this is impossible or you would die. Your body must maintain this slightly alkaline pH of 7.41 to survive, so the question is: do the foods we eat cause the body to have to work harder to maintain this pH? Since the blood pH cannot fluctuate, the body must go through processes to constantly maintain it (or in chemistry to buffer it) by pulling buffering agents out of the bones, kidneys, and lungs. These agents are calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate ions, and carbon dioxide. Are you still with me?
In other words, the foods we eat have an impact on the body (acidic or alkaline) and when this effect is strongly acidic, the body must divert energy to keep the blood pH at 7.41. Do we want to eat the foods that make the body work harder to stay at its happy spot? That sounds tiring! And what are these foods the research studies say overwork our body by creating an acidic effect? The simple answer is summarized in this list: Sugar, Meat, Dairy, Grains, Processed Foods, Refined Flours, Artificial Sweeteners, and Oil. What are the foods that have an alkaline effect on the body? Basically – FRUITS AND VEGGIES. Your Mom was right – eat your veggies!
I have been following a whole-food plant-based diet (95% vegan) for over a year, but this is not the complete answer for everyone. Achieving a plant-base in your diet is still possible while including other high-quality animal-based foods. The answer is, and always has been, MODERATION. I have seen amazing success with clients moving towards a whole-food plant-based diet (and yes they still eat meat too!). The premise of a whole-food plant-base diet (or eating more alkaline) came from the great scholar Hippocrates
~ Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food ~
This describes the theory of consuming the vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, and fatty acids naturally found in these foods in order to support weight loss and reduce the risks (or reverse the effects) of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, inflammation, auto-immune diseases, and of course cancer. In fact, the main reason I pursued a whole-food plant-based alkaline diet was for the anti-cancer benefits after losing my Mother to this horrible disease in 2014.
The next question is: HOW? How do you start thinking about food as thy medicine and incorporating these healthy habits into your diet? It starts with whole food. Try to consume meals that have less than 8 ingredients (i.e. eggs, spinach, tomato, onion, avocado, sweet potato, salt, pepper). How does that compare to one piece of toast in your breakfast and how many ingredients are listed on the bread package (at least 15!!!!)? The next step is adding vegetables to EVERY SINGLE MEAL. The greener the veggie, the higher the nutrient factor! Start tossing greens in protein shakes, soups, pasta sauces, breakfast casseroles, or the obvious answer is to eat more salads loaded with a variety of greens and herbs!
Increase the amount of vegetables you eat with meals by roasting large trays in the oven for the week so they are ready to go on busy weeknights. I have recently started roasting veggies in vegetable stock to eliminate processed oils and as it turns out it’s easy, delicious and more nutritious! Buy colorful raw veggies like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, snap peas, and radishes and add as an afternoon snack. Try to reduce or eliminate refined sugars and get reacquainted with nature’s candy – fruit. Try to reduce the amount of processed oils you cook with and introduce other ways to eat fats through whole foods like avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, flax, or hemp. Invest in high-quality animal products like organic eggs, grass-fed organic beef, organic poultry, or wild-caught fish. Lastly, start small but start soon.
Developing a whole-food plant-based diet can be customized to your lifestyle, your needs, and your tastes. Research shows it has a positive effect on the body and that brings me back to the concept of alkaline or acidic foods. The truth is I don’t know if there is sound evidence to show how the chemical breakdown of food causes the body to work harder to maintain blood pH. But the fact is how can we argue with the suggestion to eat more plants??? How can we argue with the notion that whole foods are more nutritious than processed foods??? This is not new science!! It’s almost common sense, but the on-the-go American lifestyle has created a culture of relying on processed convenience foods, often disguised as nutritious substitutes. Are convenient processed foods the answer to improved longevity and disease prevention? NO! The last time I looked, the banana came in an easy, convenient, on-the-go package 😊
It’s time to take health into our own hands and that starts with grabbing those veggies! Go forth and heal my Friends…..
-Coach Ali Gregro