Get the Facts on Phosphorus Additives

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by Stephanie Legin RD, LDN,
Registered Dietitian

Get the Facts on Phosphorus Additives

Get the Facts on Phosphorus Additives

Food Additives

What are they?  They are substances that food manufacturers add to food during processing to give them flavor, preserve taste and texture, enhance color or appearance, and increase their length of freshness. 

They have revolutionized the food industry over the last several decades to accommodate the increasing demands of everyday life for fast, convenient, prepackaged/pre-prepared, shelf stable snacks, meals, and beverages.  Food manufacturers have responded to that demand and we now have thousands of convenience, additive packed items from which to choose.  

What’s the Big Deal?

The evolution and advancements in food technology has affected our lives greatly — but for better or worse health outcomes?  It’s these “hidden” substances that most of us don’t usually think about when we consume a food that may have a negative impact on our health.  The question being asked by researchers….

What are these food additives, especially phosphorus additives, doing to our bodies and how will they affect our future health?  In healthy individuals, do phosphorus additives contribute to developing future health issues, specifically kidney disease? More and more studies are being done to try and find a definitive answer to these and many other similar questions.  

Not All Phosphorus is Created Equal

  • Organic: This phosphorus comes from natural sources such as protein from animal sources (fresh red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, milk, etc.), nuts, seeds and legumes.  Your body cannot efficiently absorb this type of phosphorus — in fact, you only absorb about 40-60% of organic phosphorus.
  • Inorganic: Food manufacturers add this type of phosphorus as an additive to food and beverages during processing.  Your body very easily and readily absorbs this type of phosphorus — in fact, you absorb 100% of all inorganic phosphorus added to processed foods.

Health Risks Associated with Elevated Phosphorus Levels

Fracture Bone, Xray, Skeleton, Diagnosis, Broken

What we do know for sure is if you have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), consuming Inorganic Phosphorus or Phosphorus Additives, can negatively affect phosphorus levels and your health due to their efficient and quick absorbability. 

Depending on your level of kidney disease and function as well as lab values, your doctor and registered dietitian may advise you to limit phosphorus in your diet. 

When the kidney has decreased function, the body has a difficult time regulating and keeping phosphorus levels in a safe range. Normally, the body keeps phosphorus and calcium in balance.   When you consume excessive amounts of phosphorus, especially phosphorus additives, phosphorus levels rise in the blood.

In order for the body to balance this out, the body pulls calcium from the bones.  Pulling calcium from the bones weakens them and makes them susceptible to breaking. If your levels of phosphorus remain elevated over time, other health issues can develop such as calcification of the arteries and soft tissues, that can contribute to heart disease, stroke and even death. 

Being an informed and educated food consumer is critical to keeping lab work in range and helping manage your disease. 

Read Food Labels

A member of Duke Field looks over an example of a nutrition label during a class on nutrition and healthy eating at the fitness center Sept. 24.  The Eglin Air Force Base Health and Wellness Center conducted the class for reservists and civilian employees at Duke Field.  The class provided tips and information on reading nutrition labels, mindful eating habits and learning to modify recipes to make them a more healthy choice.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jonathan McCallum)

There are so many processed foods that contain phosphorus additives.  Unfortunately, it’s not easy to identify if a food has phosphorus in it.  Food manufacturers are not required by law at this time to make any food claims on the item packaging or list the amount (in milligrams) of phosphorus on the Nutrition Facts Label. 

The only place you can identify if a phosphorus additive has been added is by reading the ingredient list on the food’s packaging.  Look for any word on the ingredient list that has the letters “PHOS” in it.  If you find phosphorus additives on the food item you are looking at, put it back on the shelf!   There are plenty of other food items in the grocery store that do not contain added phosphorus — the trick is to seek them out and find them.  

TIP:  Shop the perimeter of the store where most of the fresh, unprocessed foods are stocked.  The least processed a food is, the less chance it has unwanted additives.  

what? no artificial syrup?

Examples of Phosphorus Additives

  • Dicalcium phosphate
  • Disodium phosphate
  • Monosodium phosphate
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Sodium hexameta-phosphate
  • Trisodium phosphate
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate
  • Tetrasodium pyrophosphate

Rule of thumb:  ALWAYS read your labels and ingredient lists.  Become an avid ingredient list reader to make healthier choices to manage your CKD. 

Hopefully, in the future, the amount of phosphorus a food item contains (both organic and inorganic) will be required by law to be on the Nutrition Facts Label on all of our food products.  This will allow you, the consumer, to make better, more educated food choices.  

The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. KidneyChef urges you to seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. KidneyChef advises you to never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Website.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or local emergency service immediately. KidneyChef does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the website. KidneyChef does not guarantee the accuracy of information on the Website and reliance on any information provided by KidneyChef is solely at your own risk.


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