Citric acid is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, and a manufactured version is used as a preservative in foods, beverages, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Though citric acid is not an allergen itself, people with citrus allergies may benefit by consuming drinks without citric acid.
Citric acid is found naturally in most fruits and as an additive in many commercial drinks. Other than water, there are only a few beverage options that don't have citric acid, including some root beers, green tea, and milk and milk alternatives.
Read more: Is Citric Acid Bad for You?
The Types of Citric Acid
Citric acid is a weak organic acid found in fruits and vegetables. It's what causes the tart or sour flavor in certain foods, and there are higher concentrations of citric acid in citrus fruits like lemons and limes. There are many benefits to consuming foods and drinks with citric acid as it is an antioxidant, and per the National Cancer Institute, consuming foods high in antioxidants can help prevent free radical damage that is associated with developing cancer.
In addition, a study published in December 2014 in the Korean Journal of Urology showed that consuming citric acid can prevent kidney stone formation.
Citric acid can also be manufactured, and per a report featured in the August 2018 issue of Toxicology Reports, it is one of the most common food additives in the world. It's used as flavoring, a preservative and an acidulant. Approximately 99 percent of manufactured citric acid is made from a black mold that is a known allergen. However, there is no scientific evidence that manufactured citric acid is bad for your health.
There have been a few reported negative side effects of citric acid. A report published in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association showed a link between drinking acidic beverages and potential tooth erosion. And there have been a handful of cases (as documented in the Toxicology Reports study) where individuals have developed symptoms such as stiffness and muscular pain after consuming manufactured (but not natural) citric acid.
Manufactured citric acid is also listed as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) additive by the FDA.
Drinks Without Citric Acid
Citric acid is a prevalent additive — not only is it in most fruits and vegetables, but it is also in many soft drinks, energy drinks and juice drinks. Since most fruits have citric acid, a natural fruit juice without citric acid are difficult to find. And because it is also used for both taste and preservation, citric acid use in drinks is extremely common. According to Toxicology Reports, it is the second ingredient after water in some energy drinks.
For individuals who may be sensitive to citrus or acidity, there are a few options of drinks without citric acid. Because there tend to be more drinks that do have citric acid than don't, the easiest way to double-check is to read nutrition labels before buying or consuming drinks.
Pure water does not contain citric acid, as it has a neutral pH level. Flavored or tonic water, however, is a different story — once flavors are added, citric acid is also likely added. Water flavoring without citric acid is hard to come by. Plain water is the safest bet, and water should be a part of a healthy daily routine, as proper hydration is crucial to keep important bodily functions operating efficiently.
Most sodas have citric acid for flavoring, and the acidity is linked to tooth erosion. However, root beer is usually not carbonated and thus doesn't have citric or phosphoric acids. So if you are looking for a soda without citric acid, root beer will probably be your best option — however, make sure to check labels ahead of time.
Read More: List of Non-Acidic Fruits and Vegetables
Green teas tend to be alkaline in nature and have no citric acid. Green teas that are flavored (e.g., fruit flavored teas) can have added citric acid, so it's safer to choose natural, unflavored green tea. Per an article published in a 2013 issue of Current Pharmaceutical Design, green tea has antioxidant properties that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Read more: Is Milk Alkaline or Acidic?
Milk and Milk Alternatives
According to "Goat and Sheep Milk as Raw Material for Yogurt," a chapter from the July 2019 InTechOpen book Milk Production, Processing and Marketing, goat milk is naturally alkaline, meaning it likely has minimal to no citric acid (cow's milk, on the other hand, is slightly acidic). In addition, almonds, coconuts and soybeans are alkaline-forming foods, so milk alternatives made from these ingredients likely also do not have citric acid.
- Toxicology Reports: "Potential Role of the Common Food Additive Manufactured Citric Acid in Eliciting Significant Inflammatory Reactions Contributing to Serious Disease States: A Series of Four Case Reports"
- American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology: "Citric Acid and Citrus Allergy"
- The Liver: Oxidative Stress and Dietary Antioxidants: "Chapter 16 - Citric Acid an Antioxidant in Liver"
- National Cancer Institute: "Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention"
- Korean Journal of Urology: "NCBINCBI Logo Skip to main content Skip to navigation Resources How To About NCBI Accesskeys PMC US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search databaseSearch term Search Advanced Journal list Help Journal ListKorean J Urolv.55(12); 2014 DecPMC4265710 Logo of kjurol Korean J Urol. 2014 Dec; 55(12): 775–779. Published online 2014 Nov 28. doi: 10.4111/kju.2014.55.12.775 PMCID: PMC4265710 PMID: 25512810 Medical and Dietary Therapy for Kidney Stone Prevention"
- Journal of the American Dental Association: "The pH of Beverages in the United States"
- US Food and Drug Administration: "Food Additive Status List"
- ResearchGate: "Determination of Citric Acid in Soft drinks, Juice Drinks and Energy Drinks Using Titration"
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School: "How Much Water Should You Drink?"
- Current Pharmaceutical Design: "Tea and Health: Studies in Humans"
- American College of Healthcare Science: "Wellness Guide"
- PLOS One: "Influence of Various Acidic Beverages on Tooth Erosion. Evaluation by a New Method"
- Penn State: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy: "What Do Sodas Do to Your Teeth?"
- ResearchGate: "Milk Production, Processing and Marketing: Chapter 9. Goat and Sheep Milk as Raw Material for Yogurt"
- InTechOpen: "Milk Production, Processing and Marketing"