Sour Power

Why I Like Being Sour

Manuela Heider de Jahnsen is a medical therapist of the Traditional Chinese and Ayurveda Medicine.  She is the author of the standard reference Das große Handbuch der chinesischen Ernährungslehre“ (The Big Manual of Chinese Dietetics). Besides being a lecturer, she runs a surgery in Berlin, specialized in nutritional advice, yoga therapy and acupuncture. For us, she considers common health opinions, starting with detox. How good are self-prescribed cures really?


The revival of the alkaline diet has generated a lot of buzz in the past years: finally a form of nutrition with easily downloadable product lists and clear explanations in black and white (acidic and alkaline) and clearly labelled and readable add-on products. No unappetizing fungi or plant names consisting of 24 Sanskrit syllables or Chinese ink drawings, instead simply “alkaline powder” is printed on the packaging. Alkaline, so the general conviction goes, is needed by the body. Everything which produces acid in the body is postmarked as ugly and pathogenic.

Patients come to my practice with an acquired knowledge of the alkaline diet, and they sound so scientific you can’t even seriously talk to them about what a hoax this nutritional regime really is. They sound like a chemistry class, giving rational answers to their growing nutritional fear.

In naturopathy you don’t mess with science because the fact of the matter is: our methods are seen as unscientific anyway! We’ve all but coined the concept of “experiential science” in order to at least be on the playing field.

To this effect, I would like to declare the alkaline diet an experiential science. And lump it together with all the other attempts, old and new, to reconcile people with their original needs: eating, sleeping and loving, whereas most people seem to be concerned with their “diet.” How important sleep and love are for our equilibrium is forgotten among all these dietary promises.


Let’s turn to nutrition: the total amount of liquid in our body is approximatly 70% of our body weight – that’s the ratio of water to land mass on the planet Earth. The fluids in our cells comprise approximately 55% of our weight. Good digestion ensures that our cells and the fluids surrounding our cells are sufficiently supplied with electrolytes. If trouble occurs during the absorption of electrolytes and nutrients an imbalance among the important minerals, sodium (salt), potassium carbonate, magnesium and calcium arises as a result (these minerals have been emphasized here over many others).

These minerals are an important part of oxidation processes and the transportation of metabolic waste products continuously transpiring in our body. Like the ocean, we are being incessantly flushed out and cleansed. If our fluid system is insufficiently filled or oversaturated with certain electrolytes, nutrients or oxygen, the cells cannot function properly and start to die.

Minerals are a primary agent in buffering acid and hydrogen forms the basis of acid. Acid is an important factor in the inner workings of the body, as pathogens have terrible chances of surviving in acidified environments. Fungi and harmful strains of bacteria in the skin, mucous membranes and intestines benefit from an alkaline metabolic state.

The more dissolved minerals (bases) we consume the more likely our body is to enter a state of weakenedresistance whereas when we absorb too much acidity not much happens. Minerals that are produced naturally in the body buffer acids and that’s that. Our body creates the most acid itself: lactic acid via muscle movement! And in breathing, that is, exhaling carbon dioxide, we buffer our body the most. Breath and movement are important for our inner equilibrium, in fact, the real foundation of our acid-base balance. That’s why I like being a bit sour every now and then.

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And so the nutritional dogma of the alkaline diet is a bit trickier than you think: we need to be sour and a bit, well, basic also. Yet you can’t have both with the guiding principle of the alkaline diet. You can, however, with everything people have always done: eating right, loving right and sleeping right.

Images: Jan RamrothIngo Löwenthal


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