Citric Acid vs. Ascorbic Acid: Which Is Healthier?

Ascorbic acid and citric acid can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. They are often confused with one another because of their similar names and similar sources of origin. However, ascorbic acid is vitamin C, and citric acid is an acidic antioxidant. The two share several similarities, but also have quite a few fundamental differences.

Difference Between Citric Acid and Ascorbic Acid? (Image: Marccophoto/iStock/GettyImages)

What Is Ascorbic Acid?

Ascorbic acid is simply a different name for vitamin C. People's bodies cannot make their own vitamin C. Consequently, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends that you consume between 75 and 120 milligrams per day through food or supplements. Vitamin C is associated with the prevention of a variety of diseases, including, age-related macular degeneration, cancer, cataracts and the common cold. According to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin C can also increase collagen production. This can improve and help repair ligaments and tendons.

What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is naturally present in a variety of different fruits and vegetables. Foods high in citric acid include berries like raspberries and strawberries, and citrus fruits like lemons and limes. Citric acid is actually highest in lemons and limes, and their juice contains 1.44 and 1.38 grams of citric acid per ounce, respectively.

In its natural form, citric acid is known for its antioxidant activity. According to a 2014 review in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, it can even help remove aluminium from the body. Citric acid can also improve the activity of other antioxidants. Citric acid may get a bad reputation, because it has been linked to the erosion of tooth enamel, but it also has health benefits. In addition to its antioxidant activity, citric acid can help prevent kidney stones.

Fresh citric acid can be replaced by the manufactured variety. A citric acid substitute is typically sold as a powder used in the production of many commercial products. It is used to give citrus-flavored soft drinks their signature fruity, tart taste and as a flavor and color enhancer in other products. Citric acid is also frequently used as a preservative. You may find it in juices made from concentrates, vegetable oils and in products used to extend the lifespan of freshly cut produce.

Citric Acid vs. Ascorbic Acid

Citric acid and ascorbic acid have both similarities and differences. The similarities between citric acid and vitamin C come down to the fact that they are both acids commonly found in citrus fruits. They also both have antioxidant properties and antimicrobial properties; consequently, both have various health benefits.

However, citric acid and ascorbic acid should not be confused with one another. Unlike vitamin C, citric acid is not one of the recommended vitamins and minerals you need each day. Citric acid also has not been linked to the prevention of diseases or connective tissue repair, unlike ascorbic acid. Citric acid also does not have the same effects on the immune system and levels of cholesterol as vitamin C. These important differences mean citric acid has many more commercial uses — unlike nutrient vitamin C, citric acid is also used in cleaning products, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

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