Lactic Acid in Food: Good or Bad?

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You may have heard of lactic acid occurring in your body, so you may be curious to hear that it’s also found in certain foods.

Lactic acid is a type of organic acid produced by bacteria when foods undergo fermentation.

It’s also sometimes used as a food preservative to prevent spoilage and enhance the flavor of processed foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its use in most products, apart from infant foods and formula (1, 2, 3).

Though many people wonder whether this common ingredient is safe, you’ll be glad to hear it has a number of benefits.

This article evaluates the potential health effects of lactic acid in food.

Lactic acid is found in a variety of foods. It’s produced naturally as a result of fermentation or added to certain ingredients as a preservative.

Here are some common foods that naturally contain lactic acid:

  • pickled vegetables
  • kefir
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • miso
  • kimchi
  • cheese
  • sauerkraut
  • sourdough bread
  • beer

Here are a few foods that may contain lactic acid as a preservative:

  • salad dressing
  • olives
  • cheese
  • frozen desserts
  • carbonated drinks, such as soda

Note that cheese is listed twice, as lactic acid can be both a byproduct of the cheesemaking process and included as a preservative in some cheeses.

summary

Lactic acid is found naturally in many fermented foods. It’s also used as a preservative in several processed foods.

Many types of bacteria that produce lactic acid, including Lactobacillus, are considered probiotics. These beneficial bacteria support a healthy gut microbiome and are associated with a wide range of other health benefits (4, 5).

By eating more foods rich in lactic acid, you can increase your intake of probiotics. In turn, this may support digestive health, promote bowel regularity, and strengthen your gut barrier (6, 7).

Furthermore, because the gut microbiome plays a key role in immunity, some research suggests that probiotics can help reduce inflammation and support immune function (8, 9).

summary

Many types of bacteria that produce lactic acid are considered probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support gut health and immunity.

Some research indicates that lactic acid may increase your body’s absorption of certain nutrients.

For instance, one human and test-tube study found that eating lactic acid-fermented vegetables increased the body’s ability to absorb iron (10).

Iron is an important micronutrient that’s involved in oxygen transport and healthy red blood cell production (11).

Therefore, eating foods that contain lactic acid along with ample iron-rich foods may help prevent iron deficiency anemia, a fairly common condition that causes symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, and dizziness (12).

What’s more, another animal study found that consuming lactic acid with black tea increased the absorption of flavonoids, which are natural compounds that act as antioxidants to protect against inflammation and cell damage (13).

summary

Some studies suggest that lactic acid may increase your body’s absorption of iron and flavonoids.

Studies demonstrate that lactic-acid-producing bacteria may have antioxidant activity (14).

Antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals and reduce inflammation. They may also protect against a host of chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease (15, 16).

Interestingly, one test-tube study found that adding lactic-acid-producing bacteria to fermented sausage significantly increased the antioxidant content (17).

Another test-tube study observed similar findings, reporting that lactic acid fermentation increased the amount of antioxidants in myrtle berries 5–10-fold (18).

summary

Lactic-acid-producing bacteria may act as antioxidants and increase the amount of antioxidants in other foods, which may help safeguard against inflammation and chronic disease.

Although lactic acid is generally considered safe and has been associated with several health benefits, it may cause side effects for some people.

In particular, fermented foods and probiotics may temporarily worsen digestive issues like gas and bloating (19).

One small study in 38 people associated probiotic use, increased blood levels of lactic acid, and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine with symptoms like gas, bloating, and brain fog — a condition characterized by impaired memory and concentration (20).

Some research also suggests that probiotics affect immune function differently in healthy people compared with those who are immunocompromised (21, 22, 23).

However, these safety concerns are primarily for individuals with severe health conditions using probiotic supplements — not those eating foods that contain probiotics, such as fermented foods with lactic acid.

Still, if you have any underlying health conditions, consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet, or if you experience any negative side effects after eating foods that contain lactic acid.

summary

Probiotics, including lactic-acid-producing bacteria, may cause digestive issues and brain fog in some people. They may also negatively affect immunocompromised people, although this mostly applies to supplements rather than foods.

Lactic acid is an organic acid found naturally in fermented foods and added to some processed foods to prevent spoilage and increase flavor.

Lactic acid and the bacteria that produce it are associated with several health benefits, including improved gut health and increased nutrient absorption. Lactic acid may also act as an antioxidant to protect against cell damage and chronic disease.

Many fermented foods contain lactic acid, including pickled vegetables and fermented dairy products. Lactic acid is found in several other food products as well, such as olives, cheese, and carbonated beverages.



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