Is the Acidity in Tea Bad for You?
Tea varies in its level of acidity teetering between acidic and alkaline. This acidity level depends on a few different factors including the type of tea, how it is prepared, how long it is steeped, and how much it is diluted. However, most tea lands in the safe zone on the pH scale and the overall benefits of drinking tea are high. Of course, if you are concerned that your tea may be causing you to have acid reflux or tooth erosion, there may be other things to consider such as what you’re adding to your tea, how much you’re consuming, and the time of day you’re consuming it.
Many of us drink tea every day and even multiple times a day, some of us may even take our tea intravenously (don’t judge), which is why we might want to know whether or not the level of acidity in the tea we are drinking is bad for us.
Some theories state that when the acidity level in the body is high, the overall health of the body is reduced and can lead to many health-related concerns. In addition, you may be suffering from acid reflux or GERDS and have been consulted by your doctor to avoid acidic foods. You may also be concerned about the enamel of your teeth and whether or not the acidity of your tea is contributing. The question is, what does the science say, and is tea the real culprit?
Acidic vs. Alkaline
To know whether or not something is considered acidic or alkaline, we use the pH scale. When you measure the pH level of something you’re measuring the potential of hydrogen, hence pH. The test measures the hydrogen ion concentration. The higher the hydrogen ion concentration the lower the pH value. A low concentration of hydrogen ions means more alkaline. In contrast, the higher the potential of hydrogen the more acidic.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. Water is often in the middle with a neutral pH balance of 7. Therefore, anything between 0 and 7 is considered acidic. Anything between 8 and 14 is considered alkaline. Most of the foods we eat are slightly acidic before it is consumed. For instance, fruit typically lands somewhere between 2 and 5, veggies between 5 and 7, and even milk is slightly acidic somewhere between 6.5 and 7.
The Human Body
Our digestive organs contain a certain level of acidity which helps us break down the foods we eat and absorb the nutrients we need. Below we break down the pH level of these organs to demonstrate the roles of each organ.
- The Upper Stomach: 4 to 6.5
- The Lower Stomach: 1.5 to 3.5
- The Small Intestine: 6 to 7.4
- The Large Intestine: 5 to 8
You’ll notice that the lower stomach where food is broken down is highly acidic while the small intestine, where food is absorbed into the bloodstream is more alkaline. For any healthy adult, the pH range of your bloodstream should be somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45. If the pH level in your blood is either higher or lower than this range, your body’s metabolic processes will be impaired to some degree. Therefore, the question is, do the foods we eat and the drinks we drink, have an effect on the pH balance of our bloodstream?
In a theory known as the acid-ash hypothesis (pretty cool name), researchers postulate that if you regularly consume high acid-forming foods, you lower the pH level of your blood. This means that your blood is more acidic than alkaline and because the body tends to compensate for deficiencies, it begins to leach calcium from the bones where subsequently you just pee it out leading to an increase in mineral bone loss. This theory believes that foods that are high in acidity are bad for your overall health. Do the theorists get it right?
The body is an amazing thing and it has built-in mechanisms highly capable of regulating pH balances in the bloodstream. The process of balancing these levels is known as acid-base homeostasis and it is achieved through the use of your lungs and kidneys. When the acidity level of your blood is high, the rate at which you breathe increases thereby converting the acid in your blood to either water, carbon dioxide, or CO2. The kidneys also aid in neutralizing the acid in the bloodstream by reabsorbing bicarbonate from the urine back into the blood. Both of these processes help maintain the pH balance of the blood.
These buffering systems do a pretty damn good job too making it highly improbable or even impossible for you to influence the pH levels of your blood with the foods you eat and the drinks you drink.
However, there is a health condition known as supercalifragilisticexpi-acidosis. Just kidding, it’s really just called acidosis and it is anything but good. It means that your bodily fluids contain too much acid due to a breakdown in the lung and kidney buffering systems. When the systems responsible for maintaining acid-base homeostasis shut down, this can lead to serious health concerns.
So, normal, healthy adults can rest knowing that the acidity in their food and drink isn’t affecting their blood pH balance as much as they are meant to believe.
Do highly acidic foods and drinks damage teeth?
Sugar has always been the bad guy for multiple health concerns including the damage to the teeth. Sugar is the big frenemy. However, in a process known as tooth erosion, studies have also shown that foods and drinks high in acidity can wear away the enamel of our teeth. Sugar is not the only bad guy. Acidic food and drink can lead to staining of teeth and an increase in bacteria leading to a higher risk of cavities and infection. Gross!
The good news? Studies have shown that the biggest culprits to tooth erosion are fruit juices, soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks. The carbonation in soft drinks ups the acidity level and the citrus nature of sports drinks and fruit juices contribute to their high acidity.
Heartburn & GERD
Well now, heartburn or GERD may be another reason to avoid acidic food and drink. GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease and it is one of the most common reasons for heartburn. It occurs when stomach acid persistently backs up into the esophagus. In this case, it may be a good idea to avoid food and drinks that contain higher levels of acidity. This may be another reason we are curious as to whether or not the acidity in tea is bad for us.
If you are an acid burper, experiencing symptoms of heartburn or GERD, and have been recommended by your doctor to avoid acidic food and drink, and you believe that your tea drinking habits may be contributing, let’s look at the facts.
How Acidic is Tea?
Finally, we get to the real answer here. Is the acidity level in tea high enough to where it needs to be a concern? The acidity level of your tea will depend on what tea you drink and what you put in it. There are also many other factors to consider for which we will discuss below. If you remember from earlier, we mentioned that water was neutral with a pH of 7. The lower you go, the higher the acidity. The higher you go, the lower the acidity, meaning more alkaline. A safe level of acidity is 5.5 or higher. Below is a list of the different teas and where they lie on the pH scale relative to this.
A good rule of thumb is that the more bitter your tea is the more acidic the tea. Now, this isn’t always the case because many fruit teas won’t be bitter, but they too can have high levels of acidity. If you were to infuse other things into these teas, like fruit, then it would change the acidity level. For instance, if you add lemon to your black tea you would create a more acidic tea somewhere around 3.
There are also many other things to consider when looking at the pH value of your tea.
- How long did you steep it?
Generally, true teas that are steeped longer than 5 minutes can turn the tea bitter. For many herbal teas including hibiscus and yerba mate this rule doesn’t apply. True teas steeped longer than 15mins can be increasingly acidic.
- What additives did you include?
Additives such as lemon or fruit can increase acidity, while additives such as milk or cream can dilute or level out the acidity.
- How diluted is your tea?
Water is neutral on the pH scale. The more water, the more alkaline your tea. The more alkaline the water, the more alkaline the tea. So, you go ahead and be a bit diluted. In some cases, it’s actually good.
Is Tea too Acidic to be Healthy?
Nope! Not at all. As mentioned above, tea is in the safe zone for most healthy adults in terms of its acidity level. And, most of all, while a tea can be acidic (like all foods), the benefits of its high concentrations of antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals still make it the best choice for every healthy lifestyle.
So, here’s the bottom line. Based on our scale above tea can be acidic or alkaline, but most tea lands in the healthy zone. We can’t look at food or drink in a vacuum of thinking anyway. The benefits of drinking tea regularly far out weight any concern of acidity especially when tea is prepared correctly and pure. As noted above, for most healthy adults, the body is great at balancing out our pH levels anyway and unless other health factors exist, you should feel safe continuing to consume your daily dose of tea.
For a list of the most alkaline teas Fusion Teas offer click here