In this post I’ll discuss the concept of acid and alkaline forming foods, the effect they can have on the body and how this information can be used to create a “menopause diet.”
What are acid and alkaline forming foods?
Don’t worry, this isn’t about to become a chemistry lesson (well, maybe a short one!)
When food is broken down in the digestive system, the products are absorbed into the bloodstream to be used by the body for energy, growth, repair, making hormones, making neurochemicals…..
These products can be either acidic or alkaline in nature although, confusingly, this does not always correspond to whether the foods are acidic or alkaline when we eat them. For example, lemons (acidic if you tested lemon juice with pH paper) are alkaline when they have been digested!
However, the blood and body cells need to be of a neutral pH (well, slightly alkaline to be precise, pH7.4) and the body has mechanisms that ensure this pH doesn’t change much at all, regardless of what we eat. This blood pH is critically important for all the reactions that maintain life.
Other parts of the body can be at a different pH to the blood – the stomach can be very acidic (pH 3 or less), the skin pH 5, the vagina pH 3.88-4.4, the intestines pH 8.
Which foods are acid forming and which are alkaline?
You probably already know which way this is heading.
In general, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, some vegetable oils, herbs and spices are alkaline forming.
Meat, poultry, dairy, sugar, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol are the most acid forming.
Within this broad categorisation there some foods which are particularly good or particularly bad or somewhere in-between and getting the right balance of these foods helps to create a “menopause diet.”
To be honest, you should probably follow these rules most of the time; there are just specific reasons why you should pay particular attention around this stage of life and make particular tweaks, depending upon your symptoms.
So, what are the benefits of a more alkaline menopause diet?
- alkalinity improves bone health – one of the ways that your body maintains its near neutral pH is to draw on alkaline minerals that we have stored in our body. Unfortunately this can mean drawing drawing on the calcium and magnesium reserves in our bones, thus demineralising and weakening the bones, possibly leading to osteoporosis.
- alkalinity prevents magnesium deficiency – magnesium is involved in activating vitamin D which is involved with calcium absorption. Magnesium deficiencies can also lead to anxiety, sleep issues and headaches.
- alkalinity reduces pain – acidosis (too many acid forming ingredients) is a “stress” for our systems and we respond to stress with inflammation. This can cause joint and muscle pain. In addition, it is now known that muscle fascia has hormone receptors in it that enable it to be strong and flexible (we all know that our tendons and ligaments become more flexible with the elevated progesterone levels in pregnancy.) Hormonal decline during the menopausal years causes fascia to become weaker and results in those aches and pains!
- alkalinity maintains muscle mass by providing potassium and magnesium
- alkalinity improves detoxification – acid forming foods are inflammatory and mucus forming. These conditions can overload the body with toxic chemicals, mucus, bacteria, old faecal matter and more. In the menopause years this can explain hot flushes, fatigue, poor concentration etc..
- alkalinity can help balance your hormones – the right diet can help optimise the main players (insulin, cortisol, oxytocin) and as these become balanced many other hormones come into balance more quickly. This means you can experience fewer mood swings and hot flushes.
So, which foods are alkaline?
Although by no means an exhaustive list, here is a selection of some of the foods known to be alkaline forming, with particular relevance as part of a menopause diet:
- brussels sprouts
- greens: lettuce, kale, spinach, chard etc.
- squash courgette
- goats cheese
- white fish
- organic chicken, turkey, beef
- tofu, miso, veggie burgers (lentil/bean based)
- herbs and spices – mostly all or any!
- nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower/flax/chia/sesame seeds
- lemons and limes
How you eat your food is as important as what you eat!
As an acupuncturist trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM,) nutrition is extremely important to me.
In TCM, diet and lifestyle play an extremely important role in our health and wellbeing and a much greater emphasis is placed on these factors than often appears to be the case in Western medicine (although thankfully there are many positive signs of change in this respect.)
The list above might imply that in order to navigate through the menopause, you have to survive on salads and juices!! Not the case.
TCM advises us to avoid too much cold and raw food. It is far better to makes soups, stews and casseroles so that we can be kind to our digestion and, importantly absorb more nutrients.
Food can categorised in TCM according to its warming (Yang) or cooling (Yin) effect on the body, although this does not refer to the temperature at which the food is eaten but is possibly a reflection of the acid-alkali properties that we know of today. They knew their stuff those ancient doctors, even without fancy biochemical techniques!
A stressful lifestyle can also conflict with an alkaline diet and reduce some of its benefits because chronic stress causes inflammation in our system which can lead to acidosis, sometimes indirectly – we often crave sugar when our our stress hormone, cortisol, is elevated!
TOP TIP to start the day correctly: drink a large glass/pint of warm water with lemon juice. Try to have this at least half an hour before you eat or drink anything else.
I’d definitely advise combining acupuncture with some TCM nutritional therapy.
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