The Importance of Alkaline Foods

If there’s one thing most of us remember from high school chemistry class, it’s that Bunsen burners shouldn’t be left in the hands of people whose brains have not yet fully formed.

Another thing that you might remember is the pH scale, and the fact that acidic, low pH substances tend to erode things, and the alkaline, high pH substances tend to clean things. It’s a terrifically sweeping statement, but also a generally accurate one.

Unless you’re the Grand Canyon (and I’m going to take a wild stab that you aren’t), erosion is usually considered bad. As a human being and teeth owner, erosion is best avoided. To avoid tooth erosion, you want to minimise the ingestion of anything too acidic; this includes soft drinks, fruit juices, alcohol, and other fun stuff. Contact with anything that has a pH below 5.5 is best reduced, or altogether avoided.

What’s more, it’s been found that our teeth actually get stronger and begin to re-mineralise in the mouth when the surrounding pH levels sit at a slightly alkaline 7.5, or even higher, so aiming for alkalinity can be great for your oral health.

This all makes perfect sense.

The next bit, however, may not.

How the body reacts to pH levels is, to put it politely, confusing. Let’s use lemon as an example. With a pH of around 2, its juice is one of the most acidic substances that you can ingest, and if you were to just pool it in your mouth for hours, it would have serious erosion effects on your teeth. But that very same lemon is actually classed as an alkaline food.

Whether or not a food is classed as alkaline depends on the way your body metabolises the lemon. In the case of citrus, vinegar, and a whole range of other highly acidic substances, once your body has broken them down, they actually have the reverse effect, boosting your alkalinity. This means that the initial erosive effect of having such an acidic substance pass through your mouth may be counteracted after the body has metabolised it.

And this inverse correlation also works the other way. Foods that aren’t particularly acidic in nature – bread, dairy products and meat – turn super acidic when metabolised, lowering your body’s pH. Unfortunately, there isn’t any real rhyme or reason to how foods are metabolised. Without looking up exactly whether a certain food is considered alkaline or acidic post-metabolisation, it’s very hard to find a blanket rule that assists in this identification.

So what does this information mean for the common man? By itself, not much. As far as the health of your teeth goes, what you’re looking for is moderation and balance.

While tracking the properties of each food may be a bit much, there are some general rules that you can run with to help get both your body and mouth to a healthy pH level.

Vegetables, Beans and Seeds Are Your Friends

Veggies are just good thing to eat, period. Packed with nutrients, their health benefits are huge. But in the specific case of your oral health, the bulk of vegetables are fantastically alkaline. While there are certainly a few acidic veggies, packing your diet with a good range should generally send your body and mouth’s pH levels higher.

The same goes for beans and seeds. Soy and lima beans are highly alkaline, as are fennel, cumin and sesame seeds.

Go Easy on the Bread, Condiments, and Friday Night Drinks

For Australians, there’s nothing better than a sausage in bread, doused in an inadvisable amount of tomato sauce. That’s until you realise that each of the pieces of the sausage in bread puzzle – the bread, the condiment and even the meat – is highly acidic.

You know what goes great with a sausage in bread? Silly amounts of alcohol. Unfortunately, this is also on the acidic list. This sausage sizzle is quickly turning into murder for your teeth. It’s not to say you can’t enjoy these delights of life every now and again, but as always, moderation is key.

Acid/Alkaline food charts can be great sources of information for those looking to find a more alkaline diet. But generally speaking, eating what most would consider a healthy diet should be enough to keep the health of your teeth in order.

Putting aside the possibility that sharks are reading this, that set of adult teeth is the only one you’ve got. By learning how to treat them right, and following a few simple rules, you’ll be smiling your own smile for decades to come.