How to eat healthy: Food additives-Acids

NOTE: I apologize for the lateness of this post today. This article was extensively researched and took much longer than expected. I hope you find it informational and useful.

The FDA has a database of Everything Added to Food in the United States. (EAFUS) There are over 3000 substances in this data base. In this series, I will attempt to cover just a small handful of these substances, the most common food additives found in foods. For a basic look at Food additives, see the first article in the series: Food Additives: The Basics.

Today, as we continue on with our discussion of food additives, we will look at the different types of acids in packaged foods.

Before we talk about acids, just what is a food additive? A food additive is a substance not normally consumed as a food, or used as an ingredient in a recipe. The intention of a food additive is to help with the manufacture, processing, preparation or storing of food products. (1)

 What do acids do and why are they added to food?

We won’t get into a long, scientific explanation regarding the difference between acids and bases. Acids, such as citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid are found naturally in fruits, vegetables and even tea. These acids give the foods it’s tang and distinct flavor.

There are, however, unnatural sources of these, and other acids, which cause problems in the human body, such as irritation, allergies and inflammation.

These unnatural acids are  added to processed food for one of the following reasons: (3, 5)

  • preservative (most common reason)
  • ph stabilizer
  • color stabilizer
  • flavor enhancer
  • meat tenderizer
  • flavorant
  • Gelling aid

What are the different types of acids in our processed food: (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

  • Acetic acid –  Also known as ethanoic acid, acetic acid is an organic acid commonly found in vinegar, giving it the signature “aroma”.
    • Pickled food,
    • Condiments such as Ketchup, Mayonnaise and Mustard,
    • Salad Dressings and Marinades.
  • Adipic acid –  Is a naturally occurring acid, commonly found in living cells, such as beets or sugar cane. However, when used as an additive, it is prepared from the oxidation of cyclohexanol by concentrated nitric acid, resulting in an odorless white powder.
    • flavorent and gelling aid.  It is used in some calcium carbonate antacids to make them tart.
    • helps extend the shelf life of powdered products
  • Benzoic acid – occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables.  However, when produced for commercial use, it is usually produced from toluene.  Toluene is found  in crude oil and is usually produced in the processes of making gasoline, or making coke from coal.
    • It protects foods against yeasts, moulds, and certain types of bacteria.
  • Butyric acid – is a saturated fatty acid. It  can typically be found in rancid butter, parmesan cheese, and vomit, and has an unpleasant odor and acrid taste.
    • Certain forms of this substance have pleasant aromas and tastes. For this reason, it is used as food and perfume additives. It is also used as an animal feed supplement.
    • Because of the powerful odor, it has also been used as a fishing bait additive.
  • Citric acid –  This one seems harmless enough. You see citric acid and think, lemons, oranges or grapefruit. But, on an industrial level, it is made from black mold, a far less expensive way to produce this substance. 
    • The most common food preservative in the world
  • Glutamic acid/Glutamic acid hydrochloride- (AKA-MSG) As a function in our body, Glutamic Acid is an amino acid, used in metabolism, and as a neurotransmitter. It is NOT an essential amino acid, since our bodies can produce it. Manufactured glutamic acid, however,  the most common food additive, sold as a “safe” flavor enhancer. When added to food, Glutamic Acid can only be tasted in its unbound form. (free glutamic acid) For hidden sources of MSG, FOLLOW THIS LINK. Dangers from MSG or Free Glutamic Acid include:
    • Headache.
    • Flushing.
    • Sweating.
    • Facial pressure or tightness.
    • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas.
    • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
    • Chest pain.
    • Nausea
  • Hydrochloric acid (HCL) – Our body naturally uses this substance as part of the gastric acid in our stomach. However, industrially, HCL is one of the most common food additives. It is mainly used to maintain acidity and alkalinity of food.
  • Lactic acid – Commercially produced by fermenting cornstarch, sucrose, molasses, potatoes, or whey. Water and lime or chalk are added to the process. Lactic acid helps to prevent spoiling and adds acidity to foods. This product is also found during bacterial fermentation process in foods such as:
    •  beer
    • sour milk
    • kefir
    • pickles
    • sauerkraut
  • Malic acid– “it is responsible for the tart flavor of many fruits, usually when unripe. It is added to wine to aid in the aging process and is used as an alkali in many foods. It is also responsible for the extreme sourness found in some candies.” (9). As a food additive, it is considered mild and relatively harmless. –
  • Phosphoric acid – Since I can’t word this any better, here is a quote about phosphoric acid from “It is a product that is only used in the industrial, medical, and agricultural fields, and it has no benefits that can be obtained on a personal level. In other words, no one would want to drink phosphoric acid directly or apply it to their skin. After all, it is an acid, so it burns. It does not have any real health benefits.” Enough said, I think!
    • preserve food
    • cleaner – such as rust, etc
    • flavoring – tartness
    • tooth whitener/bleach
  • Succinic acid – Biologically, it is created through fermentation. Commercially, it is produced from fossil fuels.
    • Used for:
      • de-icing
      • manufacturing biodegradable polymers
      • Industrial hand cleaner
      • Lacquer thinner
      • Paint stripper
      • Pesticides
      • Body soap
      • Food additive
      • Pharmaceutical additive
      • Oil dispersants
    • Human health effects (11)
      •  irritant to eye and may irritate skin by removing natural oils.
      • Ingestion causes diarrhea and intestinal bloating.
      • Listed as a suspected neurotoxicant
      • Toxic to blood (MSDS)
      • It is classified as moderately toxic
  • Sulfuric acid – colorless, corrosive oily liquid, used to control pH and aid in food processing
  • Tannic acid – This is a common food additive, and its use is widespread. It is used as a processing aid and clarifying agent in beer and soda production.

Closing thoughts

Well, there you have it. This list is, by no means, all inclusive. I’m sure there are other acids that have not been included here today. The main lesson to learn from this article, is  that processing any item destroys it’s nutrition and ultimately makes it potentially dangerous and toxic. Take citric acid, for example. This seemingly innocent acid, potentially healthy and useful, is destroyed by food manufacturers, who manufacture it, not from fruit, but from toxic mold. Remember, if it comes in a refined, packaged form, it’s probably not something your should be consuming.

God bless and Namaste!




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