Remember high school chem, when you learned about the PH scale? Our bodies also exist in a balance between acidity and alkalinity. High acidity in the body has been linked to fatiguebione loss, and a host of other symptoms that we’d all rather avoid.
What acidifies our bodies? Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and caffeine are big culprits. We also create lactic acid when we digest meat, dairy, and very high-protein foods. These foods, also known as high-PRAL foods, acidify our blood. The human body doesn’t like to be in an acidic state, and it works overtime to compensate. Our lungs, kidneys, and other organs try to “neutralize” acidity by a process called buffering; this means linking the acid to a “base” mineral. These include sodium, potassium, and calcium. There’s now substantial research to prove that high-PRAL foods (which are typically also high-protein foods) contribute directly to calcium loss and over-taxation of the kidneys. Why? Because our body is trying to neutralize blood acid by leaching calcium from bones and into the bloodstream.
The good news is that alkaline foods immediately help to stabilize and alkalize our bodies. What are alkaline foods? Well, they include vegetables, sprouts, low-sugar fruits, legumes, and certain grains (spelt, quinoa, and millet in particular). In other words, the foods that are a cornerstone of a plant-based diet! Which is all the more reason you should be eating as many veggies as possible. Dig in!
2) Eat for Your Bones
It’s no great secret that women are prone to bone density loss as we age. To prevent this, it’s important to eat as alkaline a diet as possible: again, eating too much animal protein, which is acidic, forces our bodies to deplete calcium reserves as a buffer. Ever wonder why countries with highest osteoperosis rates, ours included, are typically the countries with highest dairy consumption? This is why.
In addition, it’s important to eat calcium rich foods. Wondering about the best plant-based sources? Sesame seeds, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, blackstrap molasses, kale, and tofu are all stellar. Most non-dairy milks and soy products are also fortified with calcium, as are many commercial vegan cereals.
If you have any reason to believe that you’re not getting adequate calcium from your diet, go ahead and seek out a good vegan supplement with Vitamin D3. Right now, I’m a big fan of Vitamin Code’s Raw Calcium.
3) Pump up the Iron
We ladies, I’m sorry to say, are also rather prone to anemia. It’s very common for young women to be anemic–symptoms include sensitivity to cold, brittle nails, fatigue, thinning hair, headaches, and depression. To prevent this, it’s crucial for us to eat enough iron.
Fortunately, a plant based diet is full of iron-rich foods! Black strap molasses is a terrific source: one tablespoon daily (try stirring it into raw or cooked oats) brings you halfway to your USDA requirement. Other sources include leafy greens – chard, kale, spinach — as well as edamame, lentils, spinach, tofu, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and navy beans. Cooking with a cast iron pan imparts some iron, too.
4) Stop Fearing Fats
Women–especially women with histories of chronic dieting–tend to be pretty fat-phobic. Don’t be, ladies! I’ve written ad infinitum on the benefits of healthy fats, but just to remind you: healthy fats help our nerves, eyes, and immune systems. Our brain is composed of 60% fats, and our hearts are regulated by them. They’re known to help prevent cholesterol, and they’re especially important for fertility and fetal brain development.
The bottom line? Eat up! Be mindful of eating a sufficient amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in chia seeds, walnut, flax, and pumpkin seeds, and monounsaturated fats, found in almonds, coconut, olives, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and avocados.
5) Ditch the Fad Detoxes
I cannot tell you how frequently I’m asked about “doing a detox.” Should I do a cleanse? Should I do a fast? Should I drink lemonade and lemon juice for sixteen days? Should I eat nothing but green smoothies for a week?
In a word: no. There is no reason for a healthy, average woman to drastically lower her caloric consumption with “cleanses”. In fact, there’s a good chance that whatever cleanse you’re interested in–juices, lemonade, all raw veggies, smoothies only, and the list goes on–will only leave you feeling deprived, strip you of water weight, and lower your metabolism. Even undertaking a radically low-cal diet is likely to lower your metabolism drastically, so that when you do return to normative habits (as you eventually will have to, because you’re human), you’ll be likely to gain weight quickly, and in the form of fat.
If you need to lose a few pounds, or you aren’t feeling your best and want to tune up, simply commit to a few small changes (less processed food, no diet sodas, no sugary desserts) that will help boost energy and let you shed fluff weight. That’s a few, not all: getting healthy doesn’t mean trying to be perfect. It means doing what’s optimal as often as is reasonable. Don’t set yourself up for yo-yo diets that can permanently destroy your metabolic function and digestion: opt instead for small, sustainable changes that will boost health for good.