Diets that present more acid than alkaline to our kidneys may:
- Promote insulin resistance1
- Lower vitamin D levels1
- Cause loss of minerals from the skeleton, contributing to osteoporosis. (Minerals are used by the body, in compounds like calcium bicarbonate, to neutralize acid.)
- Muscle wasting
- Reduced capacity for exercise
What Is An Acid-Producing Diet?
An acid-producing diet is one that, once digested and metabolized, pushes body fluids to a lower, or more acidic, pH. (The body maintains blood in a tight, slightly alkaline pH range of 7.35 to 7.45.)
The pH of a food does not indicate its pH effect on the body. Acidic citrus fruits, for example, have an alkalizing effect ... eating a lemon will not make the blood more acidic.
The Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) is an equation used to estimate how acid-forming a diet is. (It appears to have been developed by Thomas Remer in the early 1990s.2)
PRAL = 0.49 Protein (g/d)* + 0.037 Phosphorus (mg/d) - 0.021 Potassium (mg/d) - 0.026 Magnesium (mg/d) - 0.013 Calcium (mg/d)1Just looking at that equation, you can tell (by the positive or negative signs) that:
*Protein is used as an estimate for sulfate. Protein is made up of amino acids. Of the 20 common protein-sourced amino acids in food, only 2 contain sulfur: methionine and cysteine.
- Foods high in protein are more acid-producing (especially proteins high in sulfur).
- Foods high in phosphorous are more acid-producing.
- Foods high in potassium are more alkaline-producing.
- Foods high in magnesium are more alkaline-producing.
- Foods high in calcium are more alkaline-producing.
I was going to plug some foods into this equation but the authors of GoutPal did such a beautiful job of that already:
Acid / Alkali Food Tables
- Dairy - Acidic
- Meats (beef, poultry, pork, seafood) - Acidic
- Grains (wheat, rice, corn) - Acidic (not as acid as dairy and meat)
- Beans and legumes - Slightly alkaline to slightly acidic
- Fats and Oils - Neutral
- Fruits - Alkaline
- Vegetables - Alkaline
For example (positives are acid, negatives are alkaline):
3 ounce beef tenderloin, broiled:
PRAL = 0.49 (23) + 0.037 (180) - 0.021 (290) - 0.026 (19.6)
PRAL = +11 (very acidic)
1 ounce cheddar cheese:
PRAL = 0.49 (7) + 0.037 (143) - 0.021 (27.4) - 0.026 (7.8)
PRAL = +8 (very acidic)
1 large egg, hard-boiled:
PRAL = 0.49 (6) + 0.037 (86) - 0.021 (63) - 0.026 (5)
PRAL = +5 (acidic)
1 cup brown rice, cooked:
PRAL = 0.49 (5) + 0.037 (150) - 0.021 (154) - 0.026 (85.8)
PRAL = +2.5 (slightly acidic)
1 small box (1.5 oz) seedless raisins:
PRAL = 0.49 (1) + 0.037 (43.4) - 0.021 (322) - 0.026 (13.8)
PRAL = -5 (alkalizing)
1 cup butternut squash, baked:
PRAL = 0.49 (2) + 0.037 (55.4) - 0.021 (582) - 0.026 (59.4)
PRAL = -11 (very alkalizing)
1 sweet potato, baked in skin (large, about 1 cup, 200g):
PRAL = 0.49 (4) + 0.037 (108) - 0.021 (950) - 0.026 (54)
PRAL = -15 (very alkalizing)
These are just estimates. We can't know the real-time constituents of a food. We can't know the absorption of those constituents in a given individual. We can't know the buffering ability of an individual's blood at any given time.
I should note - other things besides diet affect the pH of body fluids. Excessive exercise lowers pH (low pH is acidic), as does the inability to remove carbon dioxide by effective breathing (lung diseases foster lower pH).
One good thing ... You can combine acid-forming foods with alkaline-forming foods and break even.
A diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, and that minimizes meat and dairy foods (such as the Paleo Vegetarian Diet), is a low-acid-forming diet that may reduce the risk for insulin resistance (and so diabetes), osteoporosis, age-related muscle wasting, and other pH sensitive conditions.
1 Effect Of Metabolic Acidosis On Insulin Action And Secretion In Uremia, Kidney International, 1998
2 Potential Renal Acid Load Of Foods And Its Influence On Urine pH, Thomas Remer and Freidrich Manz, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1995
3 Dietary Potential Renal Acid Load And Renal Net Acid Excretion In Healthy, Free-Living Children And Adolescents, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003
Photo from my 2005 Farmers' Market Tour.