Health and Fitness

Are Condiments Poisoning You?

Did you know that in 1973 the U.S. government raised food safety standards in response to botulism outbreaks? While strengthening standards for preservatives in bottled and packaged foods was a very necessary response to a serious public health concern, 40 years later it appears there’s been an unintended consequence: drastic increases in the amounts of acid Americans are consuming. And according to Dr. Jamie Koufman, MD, rates for acid-reflux and related throat/esophageal cancers have soared during the same time span.


I became acquainted with Koufman’s cook book, Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure, following a long sickness a few months ago. During my recovery, I could not tolerate nearly any food. After lots of trial and error, I figured out I needed to avoid acidic foods. But acid was nearly in everything! And thus Dr. Koufman’s book came in handy. I did the strict acid “elimination” diet for about one month (after two weeks of eating hardly anything), where you don’t consume anything over a certain pH level. During this time, I noticed many symptoms typically associated with acid-reflux (indigestion, bloating, etc) – which I had just become accustomed to – disappeared completely. Shortly after, I went in for my annual eye exam and my doctor noted that my vision had improved drastically (I could step down 3 times in my prescription). He asked if I’d had some sort of big change lately and I mentioned the diet. He said that was probably it; based on his experience, drastic swings in vision are typically related to life changes.

I recovered and went back to my previous diet, which was not at all unhealthy – I don’t drink soda or eat deep fried foods, fast food, junk food, etc. However, within one week of consuming fruit juices, using condiments and marinades, eating foods with naturally high pH levels and eating out again, I noticed I had bloating, constant throat clearing and a near constant feeling of being sick to my stomach, as well as trouble sleeping (which was new). I felt rundown, as if I was getting the flu or slowly being poisoned. However, I suspect that the real culprit was that I started re-consuming too many acidic foods and/or foods that cause excess stomach acid production (per Dr. Koufman, chocolate, garlic, dairy products and nuts are examples of non-acidic foods that can do this).

I am not saying that foods with high pH levels or that induce stomach acid are bad, but instead that it might be helpful to make sure they are consumed in moderation. Many of us here at BB&W lean toward fresh, non-processed foods and that is probably extremely helpful in terms of avoiding acid-based preservatives. I now follow Dr. Koufman’s “maintenance” diet which is a bit looser than the acid elimination diet but still helps with the symptoms. I won’t mislead you, it is hard! I have successfully given up fruit juice and citrus fruits, and drastically limited how often I eat tomatoes, peppers and many condiments but still struggle with packaged soups, nuts, dishes with cheese and sautéed veggies. Traveling and eating out with friends are especially hard.

Coupled with avoiding high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners, as well as monitoring my gluten, salt and sugar intake, it does feel at times as if I can’t eat anything. As someone aptly commented in a different thread, the current state of the U.S. food industry is that you have to actively fight against it in order to remain healthy. So if you are experiencing acid-reflux related symptoms, you may want to give this a shot.


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