Take Alkaline Diets With a Grain of Salt

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Salt ShakerEven with the alkaline diet’s recent popularity and age-old recommendations to cut salt in our diets, there’s still a lot of confusion about sodium levels, PH, and how our bodies keep the right balance of electrolytes, acidity, and alkalinity.

Understanding how sodium and PH levels work in your body helps you stay more aware of your health. Sodium is essential to many bodily processes—our nerves and muscles use it, and blood needs sodium for fluid regulation. Your body’s chemistry is complex and individual, so it’s important to ask your healthcare provider for advice that’s customized to your needs—that said, there are some practical steps that many people can benefit from. Eating the right amount of sodium, enjoying fresh fruits and veggies, and replenishing electrolytes after exercise may help you protect your health.

Worth Your Salt

Many Americans do eat too much salt. If everyone cut back to 1,500 mg or less per day, the American Heart Association believes we’d all see an average of 25 percent lower blood pressure readings and the US healthcare system would see $26.2 billion in cost savings. That said, it’s possible to not get enough salt, and symptoms of sodium deficiency can start showing up.

How well do you know your salt? Here are a few sodium facts:

  • Too Much Salt and High Blood Pressure—If your doctor says you need a low-salt diet because your blood pressure is too high, you should consider tracking your daily sodium intake. The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 1,500 mg. Your doctor may decide you need a blood test to see if your sodium’s too high.
  • High Sodium Foods are Typically Fried, Prepared or Processed—Reducing your sodium intake means you’ll need to cut back on many of your favorite fast, processed or fried foods.

Too little sodium? Low sodium levels occur when you lose too many bodily fluids, often from excessive sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness—Feeling dizzy, disoriented, or imbalanced.
  • Lightheadedness—Feeling like your head is spinning or like your head is suddenly very light.
  • Fainting—Feeling faint may be a sign of a very serious condition, so get to a doctor or call 911.
  • Muscle Spasms—This might mean your body isn’t getting the electrolytes you need.

Many of these could be dangerous or life-threatening, so be sure to see a doctor right away if you begin experiencing these symptoms. Your doctor may decide to run some tests to diagnose the problem—it could be a sodium deficiency or something else.

Body PH Primer

Having balanced PH levels in our bodies is essential for health and survival. Your body balances PH on its own, so changing your diet probably won’t help significantly. The kidneys are great at filtering out toxins and helping maintain a blood PH around 7.4 constantly—as long as you are healthy, this process is probably working properly.

Some of your organs are actually acidic by design. For example, your stomach maintains a strong acid to break down the food you eat. Reducing the acidity of your stomach just makes it harder for your body to digest your food.

Acidity and alkalinity exist on a spectrum, with PH levels ranging from 0 to 14. A PH of 7 is totally neutral, while 0 is completely acidic and 14 is completely alkaline. Some diets instruct people to eat more alkaline foods in order to balance body PH, but your body already does this. Alkaline foods do tend to be healthy for other reasons besides PH, however—many fruits and veggies are in this category. Eating more fruits and veggies is good for your health.

Acidic foods aren’t necessarily bad, though. Lemons, for example, are very acidic. Lean meats are another food frequently banned by alkaline diets, but are a great source of healthy protein. So it’s important to practice moderation and eat a variety of fresh foods, healthy grains and lean proteins without worrying too much about which foods are acidic or alkaline.

What’s in a Diet?

The alkaline diet proved to be just another fad diet. While people do lose weight, it’s not from eating foods that balance your body’s PH; your body does that on its own. Like any diet that works, the magic is the overall change in food selection and preparation that decreases calories from fats, sugars, and empty carbs while increasing fiber to aid in digestion.

Doctors and nutritionists can help you find the right balance in your diet. If you have questions, we’re here to help sort fact from fiction, so you can find the right foods for your health.

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