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Phosphates in Processed Foods Equals Chronic Disease Concerns

Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Winter 2013 Issue


Jordan phosphate mines. Image: CC--Kat Masback

Celiac.com 07/14/2017 - Dietary phosphorus occurs naturally in foods like dairy products, animal meats and legumes. The institute of Medicine recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 700 mg/day while the NHANES data indicates that the typical American consumes more than twice that every day.

Phosphorus is considered an essential nutrient but it is increasingly being added to processed foods via additives (anti-caking agents to preserve moisture and color) or as a stabilizer, leavening agent or acidifier. Since it is not required to be listed on the label, it is difficult to know how much is being added and consumed. High levels of phosphorus is now being considered an independent predictive factor in mortality and morbidity from cardiovascular, kidney, and osteoporosis disorders.

People with celiac disease need to be considering how many processed foods they are consuming as food manufacturers continue to offer increasing numbers of gluten-free processed foods. According to Packaged Facts 2012, breads, cereals and grains comprise 53% gluten-free purchases; snack foods 44%; sweet baked goods (cookies) 30%; frozen/refrigerated meals and entrees 27%; baking mixes 26% and packaged dinner/side dishes 24%.

Phosphates in the form of food additives contribute to the increasing health implications when not consuming a fresh foods diet. Avoiding carbonated beverages is the best way to reduce phosphorus levels in the diet. Aside from that, the person with celiac disease must pay attention to ingredient statements that may include these declarations: tricalcium phosphate, trimagnesium phosphate, disodium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate. According to current regulations, these ingredients are safe when used in good manufacturing processes but the more one consumes prepared foods, the more elevated the blood phosphorus levels can rise.

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The Institute of Food Technology in its December 2012 journal states," It has been difficult for consumers to find gluten-free alternatives that taste good and have desirable texture properties. Consequently, manufacturers are looking for different ingredient solutions that will address these problems". Phosphate additives have provided that solution without consumers being aware of the health implications.

Yes, the food world offers a wider array of gluten-free foods than ever before but just because it states "gluten-free" on the label does not mean it is a healthy food for everyday consumption. Remember: Fresh is Best!

Here is a guide I use to help those choosing processed foods to be wiser consumers:

  • Baked Goods: cake mixes, donuts, refrigerated dough = pyrophosphates for leavening and dough "improver".
  • Beverages: phosphoric acid in colas for acidulant, pyrophosphate in chocolate milk to suspend cocoa, pyrophosphate in buttermilk for protein dispersion, tricalcium phosphate in orange juice for fortification, tetrasodium phospahte in strawberry flavored milk to bind iron to pink color.
  • Cereals: phosphate in dry cereals to aid flow through extruder and fortification.
  • Cheese: phosphoric acid in cottage cheese to set acidification, phosphate in dips, sauces, cheese slices and baked chips for emulsifying action and surface agent.
  • Imitation Dairy Products (non-dairy products): phosphate as buffer for smooth mixing into coffee and as anti-caking agent for dry powders.
  • Egg Products: phosphate for stability and color/foam improvement.
  • Ice Cream: pyrophosphate to prevent gritty texture.
  • Meat Products: tripolyphosphate for injections into ham, corned beef, sausage, franks, bologna, roast beef for moisture and color development.
  • Nutrition Bars & Meal Replacement Drinks: phosphates for fortification and microbiological stability.
  • Potatoes: phosphate in baked potato chips to create bubbles on surface, and pyrophosphate in French fries, hash browns, potato flakes to inhibit iron induced blackening.
  • Poultry: tripolyphosphate for moisture and removal of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacterial pathogens.
  • Puddings & Cheesecakes: phosphate to develop thickened texture.
  • Seafood: tripolyphosphate in shrimp for mechanical peeling, pyrophosphate in canned tuna and crab to stabilize color and crystals, surimi ("crab/sea sticks") triphosphate and pyrophosphate as cryoprotectant to protein.

For those not having food composition tables available, here is a comparison of common snack foods to show how phosphorus levels quickly can add up. Many food companies do not provide analysis information on phosphorus because it is not required for the nutrition label.

  • Hershey Bar with Almonds - 116 mg
  • Cola Beverage (12 oz) - 44 mg
  • M&M Peanuts (1.74 oz pkg) - 93 mg
  • Yogurt (1 cup) - 300 mg
  • Total Cereal (1 cup) General Mills - 200 mg
  • Peanuts (1 oz) - 150 mg
  • Apple, raw (1 med) - 10 mg

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