Citric acid is often assumed safe for a Paleo diet since it is a natural product. The human body produces this acid naturally, and it is found in a variety of citrus fruits. If you are thinking that it is natural and should be permitted on any healthy diet, keep reading. While this considered a natural additive and is used by manufacturers as a natural alternative to chemical preservatives, it isn’t a sound choice for anyone following a serious Paleo lifestyle.
It’s Just Citrus Fruit Juice, Right?
If you squeeze the juice from a lemon and add it into your Paleo recipe, you are giving your body a taste of true citric acid. The problem is that manufacturers don’t use that natural form of the acid when mixing it into their products. In order to obtain the acid in a more economic and efficient manner, they manufacturer their own citric acid using yeast, sugar beets or corn.
The Problem with Corn
There are a few problems with this manufactured citric acid for those following the Paleo Diet:
- Corn is not a Paleo-approved food, so acids produced from corn are not acceptable either.
- Citric acid produced from corn may contain MSG which is unhealthy for the human body.
- Genetically-modified corn may be used to produce the citric acid, so it becomes even less healthy.
Corn products have also been connected to inflammation and autoimmune disorders (Source), so this form of citric acid is not safe for anyone trying to control that type of disease. This just adds to the list of reasons why corn-based products are not the healthiest option for anyone, but corn itself is not acceptable on the Paleo food list.
When you see “citric acid” on a food label, you have to remember that you aren’t just eating juice from citrus fruits. That assumption is damaging to many consumers who try to find convenient foods that make it easier to prepare authentic Paleo meals in less time. Even prepackaged potatoes and jarred mushrooms often contain corn-based citric acid.
What You’re Really Eating
Imagine sitting down to enjoy an orange or grapefruit. Your mouth may water just thinking about the sweet or bitter taste of these citrus fruits, but that is not what you are enjoying when you consume a food that contains citric acid. In order to manufacture the acid in an affordable manner, companies use mold.
Genetically-modified corn or sugar beets are used to produce this mold, and then additional manipulation is applied to turn that mold into the white powder that is ultimately sold to companies in need of a natural preservative. While this process is natural, the starting product is anything but natural.
While fresh corn from the husk is not approved for the Paleo Diet, genetically-modified corn is even worse. Research has connected GM corn with medical problems concerning the liver and kidneys. These two organs are heavily involved in detoxifying and keeping the body clean, and they are overworked when exposed to genetically-modified corn products.
GMO is also connected to inflammation and is proven to negatively impact many autoimmune disorders. Since much of the citric acid currently on the market is created from mold produced by the metabolism of GM corn, it is an unsafe preservative for anyone suffering from these medical conditions.
Despite the unhealthy attributes of consuming corn-based products that were genetically modified, the idea of consuming a product made from mold is unappealing to most people. This is not something that manufacturers will heavily advertise because they want consumers to associate citric acid with citrus fruits so that it seems natural and harmless.
Should You Include Citric Acid? Is Citric Acid Safe?
Whether you include citric acid products in your diet may depend on how strict you are with your Paleo lifestyle. It is near impossible to determine how citric acid is made when listed on a product’s label. You don’t know if it was made from beets, yeast or corn, and you don’t know if the corn was modified or used fresh from the field. In most cases, it is modified corn.
If you suffer from any type of autoimmune disorder, are on the autoimmune protocol or suffer from problems with your liver or kidneys, it is not safe to consume citric acid. It is best to prepare fresh foods in their natural state, and you can squeeze a lemon or lime to take advantage of the natural preservatives when needed.