Blog Category: Better Than Before

How to achieve balance in both your diet and your health
By Jane Wilkens Michael | Posted March 5, 2013
Woman preparing healthy veggies in kitchen.
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One of the first features that began my career as a health and beauty columnist was a story I wrote for Cosmopolitan magazine called “The Health Doctors.” In it, I interviewed 10 top specialists in the fields of health and nutrition. However, without MD degrees, the theories and assumptions of these ‘Naturopaths’ (as they were called) were considered slightly suspect, at best. They were highly sought-after, though, with certain celebrities and other ‘health nuts,’ who had their illnesses diagnosed through their irises, survived on mung bean dip, soya loaf and agar agar pudding and firmly believed that the right diet and opting for alternative, rather than conventional, medical treatments was the best way to prevent and treat disease.

Those were the times, too, when I first started covering spas and fitness resorts. Some were known as ‘health farms’ and offered such detoxifying protocols as juice fasts and coffee enemas. I’ll never forget one in particular in Neversink, New York. On a side table in the dining room were three large urns of coffee with signs attached that warned: “Do not drink. These are for enemas – only!!” When one of the handful of guests was brave enough to just pour himself a cup of coffee to have at breakfast, the director came by and admonished him: “No! No! No! Didn’t you read the sign?” he snapped. “That coffee is only for the enemas!! We put something bad in it. If you drink it, you will get sick.” Stepping boldly up to the plate, I retorted: “Wait a minute. How could you put something bad in it? We are still putting it into our bodies—it’s just going in the other way.” Needless to say, they didn’t want us to waste the coffee, but for the rest of our time there, we all got our caffeine fix, one way or another.

These days, of course, those same types of health doctors have been proven right and are making gazillions from their alternative medicine practices, not to mention vitamin and nutrition companies, books and TV shows. And spas and retreats that don’t also offer fasts and therapies such as high colonics are now considered outdated. Through it all, the one concept that has remained constant over the years is that our health greatly benefits from an alkaline, as opposed to an acidic, diet. And while some claim that it can help ward off cancer, arthritis, diabetes and inflammatory conditions, studies actually show that our bodies thrive in an optimal state of being slightly alkaline.

However, who can understand how to do it? The popular books have food combining charts that state such confusing rules as: Melon! Eat It Alone Or Leave It Alone! (Sorry, but I never considered a slice of casaba a meal.) And you would have to have a degree in chemistry to understand our physiological pH measures to begin with. All I know is that a pH of 0 is completely acidic, and a pH of 14 completely alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral, like pure, old-fashioned—and increasingly rare—vitamin-free H2O. The theory of the alkaline diet, therefore, is that since our digestive system uses strong acids to break down what we eat in our stomachs, certain foods can help maintain an ideal pH balance and in doing so improve our overall well-being. Realize, too, that aside from eating and avoiding certain foods, we can also become acidic with stress, coffee, alcohol, and over-exercising. (Great! Another excuse for The Lawyer not to work out!)

To make it easier for us all, I consulted Sylvia Ortiz, who has been a pioneer in the health industry since the ’80s. Sylvia started by founding the “Rebound Aerobics” video series and then turned her attention to developing Macro Greens, an all-inclusive alkaline greens formula. “My son is living proof that an alkaline body provides the nutritional homeostasis (curbing cravings for empty calories, salty and sweet) to naturally shed what it doesn’t need,” she says.”In his case, by following an alkaline diet, he lost 65 pounds. There are so many health trends that continue to be revealed as time goes on. But in general, I’ve found that the pH balance of a body is so important because diseases and inflammation do thrive in an acidic body.” So trend or no trend, that’s an important starting point.

Sylvia says that a diet rich in alkali-producing fruits and vegetables has also been shown to promote lean muscle tissue while working to lower cortisol production. (Less stress!! Hello!!) “The Western diet is known to be deficient in minerals, and produces a great deal of overall acid in the body. When the body gradually becomes more acidic it can lose essential minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. This accumulation of acid causes inflammation that increases pain and cognitive oversensitivity, adversely affecting mood which makes us more susceptible to “bad” food cravings.”

So the question is, are you too acidic? The answer could be yes if you experience some or all of the following; dry skin, headaches, chronic acid reflux, lack of energy, get easily agitated without cause, a metallic taste in your mouth, and increased salt and sugar cravings.

“A healthy diet should consist of 70% alkaline foods and 30% acid forming foods,” Sylvia contends. “Generally adding more leafy greens to your plate and avoiding foods or beverages that contain preservatives is a great start for most people. Remember, though, that a food’s acid or alkaline forming tendency in the body has nothing to do with the actual pH of the food itself. For example, lemons are very acidic; however, the end products they produce after digestion and assimilation are alkaline. Likewise, meat will test alkaline before digestion, but it leaves a very acidic environment.”

The following is Sylvia’s quick guide to acid and alkaline-forming foods. Just remember, the object is to have a diet higher in alkaline foods but that doesn’t mean you have to cut out everything that is acidic:

Acid-Forming Foods/Drinks: Meat, Chicken, Fish, Alcohol, Bread, Dairy, Cheese, Bread, Pasta, Coffee, Rice, Beans, Sugar, Shellfish, Tobacco, Wheat /White Flour. (FYI: Beer: pH 2.5, Coca-Cola: pH 2, Coffee: pH 4.)

Alkaline-Forming Foods: Apples, Almonds, Avocados, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Coconut Water, Chard, Cucumbers, Dates, Figs, Garlic, Kale, Lettuce, Lemons, Onions, Peppers, Root Vegetables (Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Beets, Turnips), String Beans, Tofu, all Herbs & Spices (Cayenne pepper, Cinnamon, Curry, Ginger, Miso), Tomatoes, most Melons, Mushrooms.

In other words, everything The Lawyer likes is in Category 1. Everything I love is in Category 2. Now you know why we always find it practically impossible to decide on a restaurant!

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