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Lemon juice: Acidic or alkaline?

Is lemon juice acidic or alkaline, and does it have an impact on our health?

Despite its acidic pH, some people claim that lemon juice has an alkalizing effect on the body. This article examines the scientific basis for this assertion.

Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Is lemon juice acidic or alkaline, and does it matter?
Last updated on November 29, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on September 3, 2023.

Lemon juice falls between a pH of 2 and 3, categorizing it as acidic. While it might make your urine more alkaline, it doesn’t really alter your blood’s pH level.

Is lemon juice acidic or alkaline, and does it matter?

Although some people believe lemon juice has an alkalizing impact and could combat diseases, it’s worth noting that these benefits are not likely due to any changes in body alkalinity.

This article explores why lemon juice is considered alkalizing by some, despite its acidic nature, and what impact this has on your body.

What is pH?

When discussing acidic versus alkalizing foods, it’s essential to understand the concept of pH.

pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution, rated on a scale from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral, while anything below 7 is acidic and anything above 7 is alkaline.

On the pH scale, the difference between adjacent numbers represents a tenfold difference in acidity. For instance, a pH of 5 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 6 and 100 times more acidic than a pH of 7.

Lemons have an acidic pH because they contain a high amount of citric acid.

Lemon juice has a pH between 2 and 3, which means it’s 10,000–100,000 times more acidic than water.

Summary: A food’s pH measures its acidity. The pH of lemon juice falls between 2 and 3, meaning it is acidic.

The supposed benefits of alkalizing foods

The Alkaline Diet has gained popularity in recent years.

It’s based on the principle that eating foods may alter your body’s pH.

To set the record straight, no evidence supports the Alkaline Diet. According to research, the foods you eat have minimal effect on the pH of your blood.

Nevertheless, the Alkaline Diet categorizes foods into three groups:

Proponents of the diet believe that eating large amounts of acidifying foods can cause your body’s pH to become more acidic, increasing your vulnerability to illness and disease.

For instance, many believe that your body steals alkaline calcium from your bones to buffer the acidifying effects of the foods you eat.

Some also believe that cancer grows only in acidic environments and that you can prevent or even cure it if you eat an alkaline diet.

The alkaline diet: A science-based review
Suggested read: The alkaline diet: A science-based review

Therefore, followers of this diet attempt to improve their health and reduce their risk of disease by limiting acidifying foods and favoring alkalizing ones instead.

Summary: Certain people believe that alkalizing foods lower their body’s pH, thereby promoting health and preventing disease.

Why lemon juice is thought of as alkalizing despite its acidic pH

Whether a food has an acidic or alkaline effect on the body has little to do with that food’s pH before it is digested.

Instead, it depends on whether acidic or alkaline byproducts are created once your body digests and processes it.

One method of estimating which type of byproduct a food will produce is the “ash analysis” technique.

In this method, foods are burned in a laboratory to simulate digestion. The pH of their ash is used to classify the foods as either acid or alkaline. Ash analysis is why foods are sometimes said to produce acid or alkaline “ash”.

However, ash analysis is an imprecise estimation, so scientists now prefer to use a different formula that grades foods based on their potential renal acid load (PRAL).

The PRAL of a particular food is the amount of acid that is expected to reach the kidneys after the body metabolizes that food.

Typically, the kidneys keep the blood’s pH constant by getting rid of excess acid or alkali through the urine.

Acidic nutrients such as protein, phosphorus, and sulfur increase the amount of acid the kidneys must filter out. Therefore, meat and grains, which tend to contain these nutrients, are given a positive PRAL score.

Suggested read: Is vinegar an acid or base?

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables are high in alkaline nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These ultimately reduce the amount of acid the kidneys will need to filter out, thus giving a negative PRAL score.

Like other fruits, lemon juice produces alkaline byproducts once it has been metabolized. Therefore, it has a negative PRAL score.

This is why some people consider lemon juice to be alkaline even though it has an acidic pH before it is digested.

Summary: Once digested and metabolized, lemon juice produces alkaline byproducts, which make the urine more alkaline. This is why some people consider it alkalizing, despite its acidic pH before it is digested.

Lemon juice may alkalize your urine but not your blood

Many proponents of the Alkaline Diet use pH test strips to check the alkalinity of their urine. They believe this helps them determine how alkaline their body truly is.

They do not realize that while lemon juice may make the pH of your urine more alkaline, it does not have the same effect on the pH of your blood.

According to research reviews published in 2013 and 2012, the foods you eat have a minimal effect on your blood pH.

Some much older studies estimated that you’d need to eat the equivalent of 18 pounds (8 kg) of oranges — which have an alkalizing potential similar to that of lemons — all in one sitting to increase your blood pH by just 0.2.

Foods have such limited effects on the pH of your blood because your body needs to maintain pH levels from 7.35–7.45 for your cells to function properly.

If your blood pH values fall outside this range, you’re in a state called metabolic acidosis or metabolic alkalosis, which can be dangerous or even fatal if left untreated.

However, this rarely occurs, because your body is very good at preventing your blood pH values from falling outside the normal range. One of the ways it keeps the levels constant is by using your kidneys to filter out excess acids through your urine.

Suggested read: Acidic foods: What foods to limit, or to avoid

This is why your urine can become more acidic a couple of hours after you eat a large steak or less acidic after you follow a diet high in alkalizing foods.

Yet, while the acidity of your urine can vary due to the foods you eat, the pH of your blood remains constant. So even if drinking lemon juice results in more alkaline urine, it’s unlikely to affect the pH of your blood.

Summary: Lemon juice may have an alkalizing effect on your urine. However, contrary to the premise of the Alkaline Diet, it has very little influence on the pH of your blood.

Does the pH of food matter?

Proponents of the Alkaline Diet seem to believe that the foods you eat can affect your health by influencing the pH of your blood. They generally claim that alkalizing foods prevent bone loss and can prevent or treat cancer.

However, as discussed above, this theory completely ignores the role your kidneys play in regulating the pH of your blood, among other methods your body uses to maintain pH.

In addition, contrary to popular belief, many large reviews have concluded that acidifying diets have no impact on calcium levels in the body.

In fact, several studies actually link high protein diets, which are thought to be acid-forming, with healthier bones.

As for the effects, some people think acidifying foods have on cancer, studies show there is no direct link between the amount of acidifying foods you eat and your risk of developing the disease.

Nevertheless, an alkaline diet may offer some health benefits to certain individuals.

For instance, people with kidney disease usually need to restrict their protein intake. Consuming an alkaline diet may slightly decrease the need for this.

It may also reduce the risk of kidney stones in those prone to developing them.

However, more research on these purported benefits is needed before solid conclusions can be made.

Summary: Your body is designed to keep the pH of your blood within a narrow, healthy range. The foods you eat have minimal effect on this pH.

Other benefits of lemon juice

Despite having minimal alkalizing effects on the blood, regularly drinking lemon juice may promote several other health benefits.

Suggested read: Oolong tea health benefits: Nutrition, heart health, and more

For instance, lemon juice is high in vitamin C, a strong antioxidant that helps keep the immune system strong and prevents and fights disease.

One fluid ounce (30 ml) of lemon juice actually provides around 13% of your daily vitamin C requirement.

Moreover, drinking a vitamin C-rich beverage, such as lemon water, with meals may help increase your absorption of some minerals, including iron.

Lemon juice also contains small amounts of antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart disease by strengthening blood vessels, reducing inflammation, and preventing plaque accumulation.

In addition, some research suggests that regularly consuming lemon juice may help prevent the formation of certain types of kidney stones.

Summary: Regularly consuming lemon juice may strengthen the immune system, increase mineral absorption, reduce heart disease risk factors, and prevent certain types of kidney stones.

Summary

Before being digested, lemon juice is acidic. But once your body processes it, it creates alkaline end-products.

These alkaline substances can make your urine less acidic but don’t really change the pH level of your blood.

So, if lemon juice does have health perks, they probably aren’t due to its supposed ability to make your body more alkaline.

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