Are your food choices helping your body achieve a perfect balance that keeps you feeling healthy and energized? Chances are, if you’re like most of us eating a modern diet, the balance in your food choices – between acid and alkaline foods – has flipped to just the opposite of what your body needs.
One of the key ways to test your body’s balance is to measure your blood pH. In this post, I’m going to lay out the role your blood pH plays in promoting health, and which foods might not be the most helpful for you when it comes to eating for energy and overall vitality.
You might be surprised by some of the most acidic foods to avoid on the list.
What Are Acidic Foods?
Foods classified as acidic have a pH value of 4.5 or below, and they’re known to enhance the acidity levels in your stomach. These foods may exhibit a variety of flavors such as sour, tart, tangy, citrus-like, and vinegar-like, and can be sharp, acrid, zesty, or even somewhat harsh. Certain acidic foods may also emit a robust and intense aroma.
To understand the significance of pH levels in our body, let’s delve into some background on blood pH. First, it’s measured on a scale of 1-14, which ranges from highly acidic to highly alkaline. Stomach acid, for example, has a pH of 3.5, because your stomach must be highly acidic to break down food and kill harmful pathogens and bacteria.
Ideally, our blood pH should be between 7.35-7.45, which is considered neutral. Anything less than 6 is highly acidic, while anything over 8 is more on the alkaline side.
Top 10 Most Acidic Foods to Avoid or Limit
Here’s an in-depth list of acidic foods to avoid or minimize in your diet.
Animal protein – chicken, turkey, and beef – is considered acidic once metabolized. This is because animal protein contains high amounts of purines, which are compounds present in RNA and DNA, and form uric acid.
When high levels of uric acid build up in the blood, not only does it have an acidifying effect on blood pH, but uric acid can also spread to tissues and joints, causing gout and kidney stones.
Dairy falls under the umbrella of acidic foods to avoid. This is because it has a dysfunctional mineral relationship. The importance of minerals to health is all dependent on how minerals work together in the body, which is why they are needed in specific ratios.
When considering cow’s milk, dairy products contain both calcium and phosphorus. Calcium and phosphorus are needed in the ratio of 2.5 to 1 for optimal health. Unfortunately, cow’s milk has a ratio of 1.27 to 1. This means that while we certainly receive calcium from cow’s milk, we’re also receiving far too much phosphorus.
Phosphorus prevents the absorption of calcium in the small intestine, and the acidifying effects of milk require calcium to be leached from the stores in bones to prevent blood from becoming too acidic.
I personally recommend avoiding glutenous grains not only because they are difficult to digest and create inflammation in the body, but also because they’re acidifying (4).
Non-glutenous grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat are still considered acid-forming but rank lower on the acidity scale. For this reason, they’re acceptable to include in your diet in small amounts, but shouldn’t be a staple at every meal.
Non-Glutenous Recipe Options:
Legumes are considered a mildly acidifying food, but they also come with several health benefits. For this reason, it’s not necessary to completely avoid legumes but to eat them in moderation and pair them with alkalizing foods.
Legumes help balance blood sugar levels, which is a major health benefit when you’re eating for energy. They also have the ability to help lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels (5).
In fact, I cover many health benefits of legumes in this blog post.
Eggs also rank as acidic for being rich in uric-acid-forming purines. If you choose to eat eggs, try to limit your consumption or increase your daily intake of alkalizing foods.
As with meat, I also recommend going for quality when it comes to eggs and opting for an organic, cage-free variety, as they will be higher in nutrients and contain fewer antibiotics and hormones, which are toxic to the body.
From an acid-alkaline perspective, nuts are a better source of protein than animal products since they’re less acidic when metabolized. However, nuts are still mildly acid-forming, so limiting their consumption to 20 percent or less of your overall diet is recommended.
7. Vegetable Oils
Vegetable fats and oils such as canola or sunflower seed oil have a mildly acidifying effect on the blood.
While their essential fatty acids are needed for good health, healthy fats aren’t required in high amounts. This is why limiting the healthy fats in your diet to 20 percent (included with nuts) is an ideal amount to have less of an impact on blood pH.
Alcohol is a highly acidifying food that, when metabolized, robs the body of alkalizing minerals such as magnesium. It can also aggravate stomach aches in those whose digestive systems are sensitive to highly acidic foods.
Coffee is highly acidic because it requires the body to release minerals to buffer during metabolism. Every type of coffee is acidic, but the way the beans are roasted and brewed makes some forms of coffee more acid-forming than others.
10. Refined Sugar
White or refined sugar – which includes soda, muffins, pastries, candy, white bread and processed grains, and other “leisurely” foods – is highly acid-forming. One of the reasons why many people develop a higher blood pH is because processed foods that contain several grams of refined sugar are prevalent in our diets as convenience foods.
Some people include sugary processed foods in every snack and meal. You can only imagine how much work your body has to do in order to neutralize the acidity of refined sugar.
[Related: Sugar Detox Plan: A 10-Step Blueprint for Quitting Sugar]
How Acidic Foods Affect the Body
Keeping a neutral blood pH is critical for several reasons. One reason is that it facilitates the proper functioning of cells by enabling sufficient oxygen reach. The consumption of acidifying foods can pose a risk as they tend to lower the blood’s pH. Acidic blood prevents oxygen from reaching cells, which stops cells from functioning properly (1).
And when cells aren’t properly receiving oxygen, they can’t transport oxygen to your organs. This directly impairs your body from being able to perform critical functions such as digestion and energy production. Acidic blood can also lead to serious health conditions, such as kidney stones, an increased risk for cancer (an acidic environment is favorable for the growth of cancer cells), and can also prevent the liver from being able to properly detoxify (2).
Bone density can also be reduced by acidic blood. This is because calcium, an alkaline mineral, is leached from the bones to neutralize the blood’s pH when it risks becoming too acidic (3). Some people report stomachaches from eating acidic foods – but whether or not acidifying foods cause stomachaches is subjective and depends on an individual’s internal environment and current state of health.
The stomach lining is naturally protected from acidity, as it would otherwise get “eaten” by stomach acid. But in some cases, people with digestive issues like acid reflux or stomach ulcers might be bothered by acidic foods.
Acidic foods have also been linked to promoting canker sores. While there’s no current evidence that they are the primary cause of canker sores, it’s suggested they may trigger certain areas around the mouth where stress or tissue injury already exists.
High Acid Foods vs. Low Acid Foods
Like our blood, food can be measured on the pH scale as acid or alkaline. Now, it’s important to note that we need both to maintain a good pH balance. But here’s the thing: most foods in today’s standard diet are on the acidic side of the scale.
So, instead of eating a combination of 80 percent alkaline foods and 20 percent acidic foods (which is optimal to maintain a neutral blood pH), the ratio has flipped to 80 percent acidic and 20 percent alkaline. While you might think that a food’s taste is a clue to its pH, that’s not the case at all. Instead, foods are considered acid foods or alkaline foods based on the residue they leave behind when metabolized.
This explains why citrus fruits, tomatoes, and onions are alkalizing, despite having acidifying properties before entering the body. They do not leave behind acidic residue or need to be buffered upon being metabolized.
Substitutes For Acidic Foods
By focusing on eating alkalizing foods and cutting back or avoiding acid-forming foods wherever possible, you’ll be doing your body a massive favor.
Here are several simple substitutions you can make to avoid overconsumption of acidic foods:
- If you have a sweet tooth, you’re much better off getting your sugar fix by eating alkalizing fruit and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes.
- A less acidic alternative to animal protein is plant protein sources such as chlorella and spirulina as they contain a lower amount of purines.
- Wild game like bison or elk has less of an inflammatory effect and a higher concentration of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
- Nut milk such as almond or coconut milk are less acidifying milk alternative to dairy.
- Choose to sweeten your dishes with natural sweeteners like raw honey or maple syrup, rather than using synthetic sweeteners.
- Reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and place more emphasis on consuming mostly unprocessed whole foods.
- Replace your soft drinks with alkaline water, and begin your day with a revitalizing green smoothie rather than coffee.
- If you’re a frequent coffee drinker, I recommend sticking to Swiss water decaf as its overall acidity content is lower, and it does not use chemicals to be processed.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Got more questions about the most acidic foods to avoid? Check out some commonly asked questions about this topic below.
Yes, acidic foods can affect dental health. The acids in these foods can erode tooth enamel, leading to cavities and tooth sensitivity. Rinsing the mouth with water after consuming acidic foods or drinks can help neutralize the acids and protect teeth.
Yes, a diet high in acidic foods could impact your skin health. Excessive acidity in the body may lead to inflammation, which can contribute to skin problems like acne, eczema, or premature aging. On the other hand, a more alkaline diet can promote healthy skin.
Acidic drinks include soft drinks, coffee, certain teas, fruit juices, and alcoholic beverages. These drinks have a low pH and may contribute to acid reflux or other digestive issues if consumed in excess.