Acidic or Alkaline? How pH influences our bodies functions and food
pH is an important part of our world, from the water we drink to the beauty products we apply, exercise we do, and the food we farm and ferment. pH even dictates the colour of some of our foods. In science class you might done experiments dipping pH strips into liquid to see what colour they turned. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the areas pH affects on a daily basis and give you a better understanding of what those numbers actually mean. There isn’t necessarily a “best” pH but each performs different functions at different times and, like most things in life, it’s all about balance.
pH (Potential of Hydrogen)
The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline (basic) something is. The scale ranges from 0-14. Acids are 0-7 and are things like lemons, vinegar and kombucha. Bases are 7-14 and are things like soap, water and cleaners.
Your Body’s pH
Since our body is primarily made up of water, we want our body to be a pH that’s close to water, which is about neutral (pH 7). If our body is too acidic this can cause acidosis and increase the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. If your body is too alkaline it can affect your adrenals. Your kidneys are one of the organs that play a part in regulating the pH of the blood.
The best way to keep this in check is by eating a diet full of fruits, veggies and whole foods to balance blood sugar, limiting alcohol, and drinking lots of water to stay hydrated.
In Your Mouth
Your mouth is a complex environment that affects the health of our teeth but also extends to our health in general. The pH of your saliva should be near neutral to maintain healthy gums and teeth. Eating and drinking too many acidic foods and beverages (like soda, fruit and even kombucha) can lead to tooth decay. There are still benefits to consuming acidic beverages like lemon water and kombucha and if you drink them with a straw and/or rinse your mouth with water after consuming acidic beverages you can lessen the negative effects on your enamel.
On Your Skin
Our skin has a slightly acidic protective coating (a pH of 4.7) called an acid mantel that helps keep out harmful bacteria and viruses from entering our body through the skin. It’s important to choose products that are formulated to work effectively on the skin. Poorly formulated products can cause irritation and inflammation because they work against the skin's natural pH. You can sometimes find this on the package labelling as “pH optimized” or “pH balanced” and these types of products fall around 5.5.
In Soil and Food
In our soil, pH determines how available essential plant nutrients are. The ideal soil pH is 6.5, where there are ample nutrients for plant growth. Soil that is too acidic can have less nutrients like phosphorus and other nutrients can actually become toxic and lead to bad bacteria growth. Soil that is too alkaline can inhibit important nutrients like iron, copper and zinc and can make it difficult for leafy greens to grow. Less nutrient rich soil means less nutritious plants and vegetables.
When we ferment, pH is important in allowing the right bacteria to grow. There are two ways that food ferments: aerobically (with oxygen) and anaerobically (without oxygen). When making fermented beverages, like kombucha, kefir and kvass, the ferment needs oxygen. Now oxygen can often allow bad bacteria and mold to grow IF the pH is too high. But many of these ferments are acidic and at this level of acidity it promotes the production of beneficial bacteria, acetic acid and enzymes while inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria. Ferments under a pH of 4.5 are considered safe.
Vegetables, on the other hand, require an anaerobic environment to ferment. That’s why these ferments are often in a salt brine solution. Vegetables need to be submerged below the liquid so that oxygen can’t access the vegetables and the bad bacteria can’t grow. If you’ve fermented vegetables before you’ll often find that there can be mold growth on top of the ferment that isn’t covered by the brine and you’d want to discard that portion.
It’s easy to check pH with pH strips or digital pH pens if you’re checking the pH of something often. Just make sure you have the right range of pH strips since many come in only the acidic or alkaline range. Beginning to collect information is a great way to learn more about pH and protect your health!