In our previous blog of this series we discussed about listening to our body and also sattvic foods. Now we shall look into one of the characteristic of sattvic food which is Alkalinity.
Acidic and Alkaline foods
Understanding the pH factor is paramount for determining which foods are acidic and which are alkaline. The sage-physicians of Ayurveda did not measure the acidity and alkalinity pH of a food substance directly, rather they measured it by the final outcome of a food substance after exposure to the digestive enzymes. They called it vipaka which is the effect of the bio transformation of a food through the action of the digestive enzymes or in simple terms post digestion effect. Vipaka can be classified as sweet (madhura), sour (amla) and pungent (katu). They figured that madhura or ksharavipaka (alkaline effect) bestowed the finest health on a person. Therefore Ayurveda greatly emphasised the consumption of alkaline foods. Most alkaline foods are sattvic in nature; they promote mental and physical well-being.
All herbs, spices and most vegetables are alkaline. Avacados, coconuts, Indian gooseberry are very alkaline, so are rock salt, sprouted beans, spinach, cucumber, horseradish, miso and broccoli. All citrus fruits are acidic before ingestion but they act alkaline on the body during and post digestion. All alkaline foods are light in digestion and their effect is soothing or cooling (sheetala) on the body.
Millets are considered to have an alkaline effect on the body though it produces some amount of heat and drying effect. This makes it a rather special grain because it has the satisfying, nourishing effect of the sweet taste but at the same time is light, easy to digest and actually antidotes the damp stickiness that can result from eating other heavier grains like wheat. Due to its light, heating and drying effect, millet is used as ‘food medicine’ in the treatment of high Ama, dull Agni (manda), diabetes, excess weight, oedema and other excess Kapha (mucous/fluid) conditions.
Modern science considers all dairy products as acidic but Ayurveda considers all dairy products generated from desi cow’s milk to be alkaline. Please note that there is a humongous difference in desi cow milk (A2 milk) and milk from other breeds like Jersey and Holstein (A1 milk) which we shall look into at a later date.
All meat, intoxicants, condiments, processed and canned foods are very acidic in nature.
The pH factor
From the current scientific perspective, the pH element is the sole factor in determining whether a food is acidic or alkaline and how acidic or alkaline it is. The modern concept of pH has been around for more than a century. A Danish chemist Soren Peder Lauritz Sorenen, invented the pH scale in 1909. pH levels exist at the fluid, glandular and cellular levels and in the tissues and organs. Each individual cell in the body has a pH level. pH stands for potential Hydrogen.
It refers to the concentration of Hydrogen ions. The fewer the Hydrogen ions, the greater the pH level; the greater the pH level, more the alkalinity. The cells, tissues or fluid could be acidic, alkaline or neutral.
Measured on a scale from of 0-14, anything above 7 is alkaline and anything below 7 is acidic. a pH reading of 7 is neutral. Maintaining a pH between 7-8 is ideal for your body.
Every food you consume has a acid-alkali status. Acids generate Hydrogen ions and alkalies absorb them. The greater the concentration of Hydrogen ions in a substance. the more acidic it is. A higher pH means more alkaline. This is what you need in your diet – higher pH. Hydrogen ions are positively charged particles. They are highly unstable, active and reactive. They attach to a protein and are capable of completely modifying its structure.
People with low pH levels age quickly, because skin hair and muscles are made from protein which the Hydrogen ions are capable of modifying them.
An increase of one point on the pH scale represents a tenfold or one thousand percent decrease in the concentration of Hydrogen ions and a decrease of one point on the pH scale means a thousand percent increase in Hydrogen ions. Therefore, the difference between a pH of 6 and 8 is not merely two points but a 20 fold change. So be careful and think twice before choosing an acidic food.
Ayurveda has another perspective of doshas (vata, pitta and kapha). When the three doshas are in balance, your body is in a state of homeostasis. An acidic diet aggravates vata and pitta, Alkaline foods pacify all the three doshas. We shall look into this in our next blog.