When I tell people who are new to the Paleo diet that they should be eating more meat and less carbohydrates, one of the objections I hear most often is this, “but isn’t meat acidic?”, or, “won’t that make my pH too acidic?” pH is one of those topics that is surrounded by so much mass confusion and contradiction, even within health practitioners themselves, that it can make your head spin. So let’s try and set the record straight.
Everything you consume registers with the kidney as acid or alkaline. Most cells in the body function most optimally in a slightly alkaline environment, however, a variety of metabolic processes produce acidic waste. An accumulation of acidic waste is toxic to the body, therefore, the body has several built in systems to buffer and balance acidity and alkalinity known as the acid-base, which can be measured by the well known pH levels.
However, if you consume too many acidic foods and not enough alkaline, it can push the body to the acidic side and then it will start pulling from your alkaline reserves to try and maintain proper pH. An imbalance in the acid-base can lead to bone and muscle loss as you age, osteoporosis, increased blood pressure and risk of developing kidney stones, stroke, asthma, insomnia, stomach cancer, meniere’s syndrome, cravings for sugar and carbs, fatigue, air and motion sickness and much more. This becomes more of a problem as you age, because the kidneys become less proficient at handling acid in the diet.
Acid-Forming Foods & Substances
The following foods and substances are acid-forming in the body:
- processed foods
- deep fried foods
- caffeine (coffee, chocolate, etc.)
- carbonated drinks
- artificial sweeteners
- refined salt
- a variety of recreational and prescription drugs
- dairy (especially hard and processed cheeses)
- most vegetables
- most fruits (except dried fruit and fruit juice)
- some nuts (There is not agreement in the field about which nuts are alkaline or acidic, but most everyone agrees that almonds and chestnuts are alkaline.)
**Fat is neutral.
Now, although meat, seafood, and eggs are in the acid-forming list that doesn’t mean they should be eliminated. Your body needs both acid and alkaline foods. Since you’ll be eating lots of alkaline vegetables and small amounts of fruit on a primal diet, they will neutralize the acid of the meat and create a healthy balanced pH level. Since fat is neutral, it will have no impact on your pH.
Most of our society is too acidic, not because they are eating meat, but because they are eating sugar, grains, legumes, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, carbonated drinks, etc., and/or smoking cigarettes and taking drugs, and not eating enough alkaline vegetables.
When you eat Paleo, you’ll be eliminating all those bad unnatural substances and taking in nothing but real food, so you don’t really have to worry about pH as long as you are eating sufficient vegetables as you should be, because they will buffer the acid of the meat and promote balance naturally. No other steps like alkaline water, alkaline diets, alkaline drops, etc., are typically necessary.
As a matter of fact, a diet that is too alkaline can cause problems as well. The pH level in a healthy body, should run about 7.3 or 7.4. However, it is vital to understand that not all parts of the body should be alkaline. Your blood should be alkaline, but the gut and vagina should be acidic. If these parts of the body become too alkaline, then they encourage the proliferation of unhealthy microbes like Candida, bacteria and parasites. The acid in your gastrointestinal tract is one of your primary means of protection from microbial invasion. A diet that is lacking in animal protein and too high in alkaline foods like fruit and vegetables will make the gut too alkaline, which creates an environment that is very inviting to microbes.
You should take a look at my Candida and pH page for a more in depth discussion on the pH level of the gut. But, in a nutshell, if you are following the Paleo diet, then it will also encourage just the right pH for the gut, as long as you are avoiding the other things that make a gut too alkaline like antibiotic use, chlorinated drinking water, and antacids and you are not deficient in hydrochloric acid.
So, if you were eating nothing but meat, then it would make the body acidic, but when it is combined with liberal amounts of alkalizing vegetables and small amounts of fruit, as the Paleo diet recommends, then it is neutralized. Meat is an essential ingredient in the diet for maintaining balance between acidity and alkalinity.
Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet. Wiley, 2001
Sisson, Mark. The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health and Boundless Energy. Primal Nutrition, Inc.; paperback 2nd edition 2012.