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How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks

Danger AcidFood companies are able to sneak acids into lots of the foods we eat.  On Wednesday, I wrote about the three dangers of eating acidic, sticky candy such as Sour Patch Kids.

I listed a small number of acidic candy that it would be wise to consume in limited amounts.  The major problem with that list is that it's not complete.  If I were to list every single acidic food, I think it would break the internet.

With that in mind, I decided to write a post about how you can figure out how much acid is found in the various foods you eat.  As you read this, keep in mind that you don't need to avoid all acidic foods, but it is important to know that when you consume acidic foods in large quantities, you can dissolve the enamel on your teeth.

How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks

There's no place on the standard Nutrition Facts labeling to specify how acidic a food is.  Luckily, all packaged food sold in the United States is required to list the ingredients that they contain.

You can find the acids in the ingredients.  You should note that not all acids are called acids in the ingredient list on foods.  With that in mind, I've listed some more common names for the acids as well as notes about each one.  In general, you can count on food being acidic if it contains any of the following ingredients:

  • Acetic Acid - This is the main component of vinegar, so if the ingredients list vinegar, you're dealing with an acidic food.  Ketchup and barbecue sauce both contain vinegar, which cause their pH to drop to around 3.9.
  • Ascorbic Acid - Also known as Vitamin C.  Although vitamin C is good, if you're taking too much by sucking on chewable vitamin C tablets, it can harm your teeth.  It's best to supplement your diet with non-chewable Vitamin C pills that you can swallow with a drink.
  • Citric Acid - This is what gives citrus fruits their sour taste.  If the ingredients list citric acid, or any citrus fruit component such as lemon juice, then it's acidic.
  • Fumaric Acid is commonly used in drinks and also found in stove-top pudding mixes where it is used to thicken them.
  • Lactic Acid is found in sour milk products such as yogurt.
  • Malic Acid is naturally found in apples and grapes.  It gives green apples and grapes their tart, sour taste.  Watch for this acid on the labels of sour candy.
  • Phosphoric Acid is a mass produced acid that is added to most cola beverages to give them their tart taste.  Not only is it bad for your teeth, there is controversy surrounding its use due to studies which link it to decreasing bone density.
  • Succinic Acid is produced when sugar ferments.  Therefore, it is commonly found in wine and beer.  It can be added to many different foods to provide an acidic, sour taste.
  • Tartaric Acid is found naturally in fruits such as bananas, grapes, and tamarind (a tropical fruit.)  It can also be found mingling with succinic acid in wine.  In fact, tartaric acid is the cause of "wine diamonds" sometimes found on the underside of the wine cork.  Tartaric acid is added to a variety of foods to give a sour, tangy taste.
  • Concentrated Fruit Juice is not an acid by definition, but it is also a major source of acid in foods.  When the fruit juice is concentrate, water is removed.  Consequently, it has a higher concentration of acid to dissolve your teeth.  Concentrated fruit juices contain citric acid and/or malic acid.

You can go to this food additives website to learn more about the above-mentioned acids.

Should You Avoid All Acidic Food For Oral Health?

No.  I don't think you should avoid acidic foods.  Acids serve various purposes in our bodies.  Acids are found in canned foods to help ward off the bacteria.

Our teeth were designed to be able to withstand a certain amount of acid.  Human saliva has a built in system to remineralize our teeth after we consume acid.

It is best to consume acids in moderation.  It would be nice if there was an easy way to find the pH of all foods to make better nutritional decisions, but until that time comes, you can use the list above to understand which foods are acidic.

Do you have any questions or comments about the acids found in food?  Let us know in the comments section below.

labeling to specify how acidic a food is.

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3 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. Just curious, do you think that eating a diet that consists mostly of whole food and organic foods would be less acidic in general? I understand that some acids are naturally occurring but it seems like this way of eating might have some dental benefits, in addition to the other health benefits more commonly known.

    • I think a healthier diet would promote better dental health. It seems like food manufacturers are adding sugars and acids to so many prepackaged foods to make them taste better and get more people to buy them.

      I think eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables would be good for your overall health and your teeth!

  2. Hi,
    There is acid in various food items and beverages, as you've stated (I've been reading the info you've collected here...awesome!!!). There are obvious things to consider such as genetics, eating/drinking habits, stress, etc but generally speaking how long does it take for let's say diet Pepsi to dissolve enamel? And how much enamel gets lost during that time (the rate)? If this is one of those cases that can be viewed that way. And of course there is so hard and fast rule or absolutes... Thanks

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Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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