If you read the ingredients list for fruit juices and drinks, cereals, fruit-flavored candies, cured meats, cereals and frozen fruits, you may see ascorbic acid listed. Manufacturers sometimes include it in foods as a preservative, antioxidant or color stabilizer, or it can be used to boost a food's vitamin C content. This additive is considered safe, with a very low incidence of allergic reactions or other adverse effects. Because ascorbic acid added to foods is corn-based, however, you may want to avoid the additive if you're sensitive to or allergic to corn.
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Increasing Vitamin C Content
Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C, a vitamin that is often destroyed in food processing because it is both heat-sensitive and water-soluble. Manufacturers use ascorbic acid to increase the overall vitamin C content of the food or beverage to at least preprocessing levels and make the food appear more nutritious to consumers. You need vitamin C for forming collagen, keeping your teeth and bones healthy and healing wounds.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which means it keeps foods from reacting with oxygen when they're exposed to air. This helps keep the food's texture, flavor and color from changing. Adding ascorbic acid to cured meats helps them keep their red color so that they'll be more attractive to consumers. This additive can also help keep cut or canned fruits from browning. That's the reason why people sometimes dip cut fruit in a mix of lemon juice, which is a source of vitamin C, and water.
Limiting the Formation of Harmful Substances
Cured meats sometimes contain substances called nitrates and nitrites. Adding ascorbic acid to these meats helps prevent the process that turns these nitrates and nitrites into nitrosamines, which are substances that may increase your risk for cancer. Ascorbic acid also inhibits the growth of bacteria, potentially reducing food-borne illnesses and food spoilage.
Potential Side Effects
The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C is 75 milligrams per day for women and 90 milligrams per day for men. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that vitamin C used commercially is made from corn, so you may want to avoid any food containing ascorbic acid if you're sensitive to or allergic to corn. Most people don't experience adverse effects unless they get more than 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C per day. At that point it may cause upset stomach, diarrhea or gas.
- University of Kentucky Extension: Chemical Cuisine
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Chemical Cuisine
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- Colorado State University Extension: Food Preservation Without Sugar or Salt
- The Pharma Innovation Journal: Ascorbic Acid on Oral Microbial Growth and Biofilm Formation