What is ascorbic acid in food and what are we being exposed to when using it? We often read the name on fruity juices, drinks, frozen fruits, and cereals labels. Many manufacturers include it in packaged foods as a preservative or color enhancer, and although it is considered safe, there is still controversy around it.
What is Ascorbic Acid?
Ascorbic acid is defined as a naturally occurring organic compound. It is found in many fruits and vegetables, more often in citrus fruits and peppers. But in our day and age, we artificially add ascorbic acid in food for many purposes. Some animals’ kidneys actually produce this acid. Humans, however, do not have the ability to generate the acid and have no other option than to obtain the vital vitamer of Vitamin C from their diet. Otherwise, people are at risk of developing deficiencies and scurvy.
Is Ascorbic Acid Vitamin C?
Although there is a common misconception that the acid is Vitamin C, and is often referred to as Vitamin C acid, they are not exactly the same thing. Let’s see why!
First of all, vitamins, in general, are not individual molecular compounds. Because vitamins are organic complexes, we can’t say that a single acid equals the whole compound. You can’t isolate a vitamin from its complexes and still expect it to perform its life function as it would have. When you isolate the vitamin into ascorbic acid, for example, it is no longer a vitamin but instead it is transformed into an artificial commercial ingredient. Ascorbic acid is not Vitamin C, and calling it such is incorrect.
Ascorbic Acid in Food – Why Use It?
You may wonder what is ascorbic acid used for in foods and why do we find it more than often on most food labels. Ascorbic acid in food is primarily used as an antioxidant. The ingredient can have certain benefits, such as slowing the oxidation to preserve color and freshness, prevent microbial growth, while also offering food producers the possibility to use it in a wide array of products. It is considered to be a natural ingredient preservative that can be added to bread, jams, cured meats, sauces, and other food products.
Others also praise its Vitamin C properties. It is considered to be a vital ingredient in dietary supplements. Many foods are added the acid especially to increase the content of Vitamin C. It is also used to enhance the flavor of many packaged and canned foods. This is why candies, jellies, and processed jams are by definition products with ascorbic acid, as they are almost always added the ingredient to enhance their taste.
How Is Ascorbic Acid Produced?
The acid is produced by a complex method based on the Reichstein process. The industrial process involves bacteria that have a role in reducing glucose and producing ascorbic acid as a secondary product.
Being presented in various forms, such as salts or esters, it can sometimes appear on food labels under the name of “sodium ascorbate”, “potassium ascorbate”, “calcium ascorbate”, “ascorbyl stearate”, or “ascorbyl palmitate”.
The Risks of Using Ascorbic Acid in Food
Ascorbic acid in food is not always a great idea. Studies have shown that we should be cautious in regards to ingesting high doses of ascorbic acid. If consuming more than the recommended 2,000 milligrams daily, you may experience some upsetting side effects. Although it may seem hard to overdose on ascorbic acid, do keep in mind that many of our processed foods have been added the ingredient, and we also get our intake from all-natural foods. As a rule of the thumb, it is best to rely on natural foods for your Vitamin C needs and try to keep away from canned and packaged foods.
Here are the common side effects of ascorbic acid:
High doses of the acid in food causes the body to eliminate the excess. This is why some people may experience digestive problems. Large doses do not allow the acid to be fully absorbed in our organism, and this leads to increased water in the bowels, which ultimately manifests itself through diarrhea.
Also the result of water accumulating in the bowels, some might develop painful abdominal cramps and spasms. Diarrhea is usually preceded by abdominal cramps. However, they stop once the acid passes in the stool.
Ascorbic acid has the ability to increase the risk of forming kidney stones. It generally varies from individual to individual depending on their capacity to metabolize the acid. According to a clinical study involving patients given 2,000 milligrams of the acid, about 40 percent of them produced abnormal levels of urinary oxalate. High levels of oxalate are known to cause kidney stones.
Migraine headaches have also been reported with high doses of ascorbic acid. Symptoms can include temporary dizziness, faintness, and fatigue.
Scurvy remains a controversial condition that is said to occur after ingesting high doses of the acid over extended periods of time. Symptoms include dry and brownish skin, swollen gums, loose teeth, very dry hair, painful joints, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, and even proptosis.