Is trisodium phosphate in food bad for you? Facts vs. myths

There is growing concern about the safety of food additives, which are used to prolong shelf life, improve flavor and improve texture.

Trisodium phosphate is a common food additive found in many types of processed products, such as cereals, cheeses, soft drinks and baked goods.

Although the FDA considers it safe, some evidence suggests that phosphate additives such as trisodium phosphate can harm your health (1).

This article investigates whether trisodium phosphate represents a risk to your health.

What is trisodium phosphate?

Trisodium phosphate

Sodium phosphate refers to a group of food additives derived from phosphorus.

These additives are made by combining different combinations of sodium (salt) and inorganic phosphate, a chemical compound derived from phosphorus.

Phosphorus is an important mineral found naturally in foods such as milk, beans, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and nuts.

This type of natural phosphorus is known as organic phosphorus and is essential for bone health, cell repair, muscle contraction and nerve function, among other vital processes (2).

Inorganic phosphorus includes food additives derived from phosphorus such as trisodium phosphate, which are added to food as an ingredient.

Trisodium phosphate is one of the most common types of sodium phosphate additives and can be found in a variety of articles.

This and other phosphate additives are commonly used in fast foods and other highly processed products.

Summary Trisodium phosphate is a food additive that contains sodium and inorganic phosphate. Sodium phosphate additives are commonly found in highly processed foods.

Why is trisodium phosphate added to food?

Trisodium phosphate and other sodium phosphate additives have multiple uses in the food industry and are found in many commercially prepared products.

They are used to reduce acidity and improve texture in foods such as baked goods and meats.

They also act as fermentation agents in baked goods, which means they help the dough increase and maintain its shape.

For example, trisodium phosphate is a popular ingredient in store-bought breads, cakes, muffins and cake mixes because of its ability to increase the softness and height of these items.

It is also often added to meat and seafood products such as bacon, sausage, lunch meat and canned tuna to help retain moisture, increase shelf life and prevent spoilage (3).

In addition, sodium phosphate additives help balance the pH levels of these foods, preventing them from becoming too acidic or alkaline, which can cause food to spoil more quickly.

In addition, sodium phosphate additives act as thickening agents in products such as mashed potatoes, prevent soda from darkening and prevent oil and water from processed cheese products from separating (4).

Summary Sodium phosphate additives are added to many processed foods to improve texture, help baked goods increase, prevent spoilage and increase shelf life.

Is the consumption of trisodium phosphate safe?

Although certain types of sodium phosphate are used in cleaning and painting products, it is important to know that these are not the same as food-grade sodium phosphate.

Food grade sodium phosphate is used throughout the world and is recognized as safe by major regulatory agencies such as the FDA and the European Union (5).

Consuming small amounts of foods that contain sodium phosphate is very likely not harmful to your health.

However, since many people eat fast foods, processed meats and packaged foods daily, there is a concern that high levels of sodium phosphate can harm the body.

Organic phosphorus, found naturally in foods such as dairy products and meats, has a much lower and slower rate of absorption than the inorganic type of phosphorus (sodium phosphate) added to processed foods.

Organic phosphorus is much less absorbable than inorganic phosphorus.

The digestive system only absorbs around 40-60% of organic phosphorus, while absorbing up to 100% of the inorganic phosphorus found in foods such as cereals, cakes, soda and cold meats (6).

Since inorganic phosphorus is more effectively absorbed by the digestive tract, it affects the body differently than organic phosphorus.

Eating too many foods that contain sodium phosphate additives can raise phosphate levels in the body to an unhealthy level.

Studies have linked high levels of phosphate with conditions such as heart disease, decreased bone density, premature aging, kidney problems and even premature death (7).

Summary Sodium phosphate additives are absorbed more effectively than natural sources of phosphorus. While the consumption of small amounts of sodium phosphate is likely to be safe, eating too much sodium phosphate can lead to unhealthy levels of phosphorus in the body.

Who should avoid phosphate additives?

While consuming too much sodium phosphate is not good for anyone's health, small amounts of it are considered safe.

However, people with certain medical conditions should avoid foods that contain sodium phosphate additives such as trisodium phosphate.

People with kidney disease or kidney failure

When the kidneys are healthy and functioning normally, they filter waste products from the blood, including excess phosphorus.

However, when the kidneys are compromised, as in those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) or kidney failure, they lose the ability to properly excrete the waste products.

People with kidney failure and advanced CKD should limit the amount of phosphorus they consume to avoid high levels of phosphorus in the blood.

Excessive phosphorus consumption can further damage already compromised kidneys by damaging blood vessels and causing an abnormal accumulation of calcium (8).

In fact, a higher intake of phosphorus is related to an increased risk of death in people with renal failure on hemodialysis, a blood purification treatment (9).

Those with osteoporosis and osteopenia

A diet rich in foods that contain sodium phosphate additives can damage the health of bones.

Maintaining normal levels of phosphorus in the body is essential for strong bones.

However, disturbing this delicate balance by consuming too much or too little phosphorus can wreak havoc on the skeletal system.

For example, one study found that consuming a diet rich in sodium phosphate food additives increased the growth factor of fibroblast 23 (FGF23), an inhibitor of bone mineralization, by 23%, compared with an identical low-fat diet. phosphate additives (10).

Another study in 147 premenopausal women showed that a high habitual consumption of foods containing phosphate additives led to high levels of parathyroid hormone, a hormone that regulates calcium levels throughout the body (11).

Parathyroid hormone tells the body to release calcium from the bones to balance calcium levels in the body.

Having abnormally high levels of parathyroid hormone can damage bone health by causing an excessive loss of calcium in the bones (12).

People with heart disease

Your heart can also be damaged by excessive consumption of sodium phosphate additives.

In fact, high levels of circulating phosphorus have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease in people with and without kidney disease.

Having too much phosphorus in the body can damage the heart by causing the calcification of blood vessels.

A large study in 3,015 young adults found that higher levels of phosphate in the blood were associated with an increase in coronary artery calcification and other risk factors for heart disease.

In addition, participants who had serum phosphate levels greater than 3.9 mg / dL had a 52% greater risk of coronary artery calcification 15 years later, compared to those with levels less than 3.3 mg / dL (13 ).

Those who have inflammatory bowel disease

It has been shown that a high intake of inorganic phosphorus worsens intestinal inflammation in animal studies.

Studies in both humans and rats have found that increased phosphorus can cause inflammation in the body (14, 15).

The inflammation is at the root of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, which together are called inflammatory bowel disease or IBD.

A recent study in animals suggests that a diet rich in inorganic phosphate could exacerbate the symptoms associated with IBD.

Rats fed a high phosphate diet had more inflammatory markers, intestinal inflammation, and symptoms such as bloody stools, compared to rats given a low phosphate diet (16).

Summary Although everyone should limit their intake of foods that contain sodium phosphate additives, people with heart problems, kidney disease or bone problems should do everything possible to avoid foods that contain it.

How to limit your intake of phosphate additives

Obtaining the recommended amount of phosphorus through a healthy and balanced diet is not difficult, since organic phosphorus is found naturally in many foods.

However, if you eat a diet rich in processed foods, it is very likely that you get more phosphorus than your body needs, which is not good for your health.

Phosphorus intake has increased steadily over time due to increased consumption of phosphorus-containing food additives such as trisodium phosphate.

In fact, Americans have increased their phosphorus consumption by 10-15% in the last 20 years (17).

Surprisingly, studies suggest that phosphorus additives in processed foods can contribute as much as 50% of total daily phosphorus intake by following a westernized diet (18).

To avoid excessive consumption of phosphorus in the form of food additives, limit the following:

  • soda

  • Fiambres

  • Bacon

  • sausage

  • Sugary breakfast cereals

  • Commercially prepared breakfast bars.

  • Cake mixes

  • Canned tuna

  • Fruit flavored drinks

  • Sugary iced teas

  • Processed baked goods

  • Frozen food

  • Macaroni in box and cheese

  • Fast foods

  • Non-dairy creamers

  • Flavored waters

  • Cheese sauces

In addition to containing high levels of sodium phosphate additives, processed foods are often high in sugar, fat, calories and preservatives, which are not good for health.

Summary To reduce the intake of sodium phosphate additives, avoid foods and beverages such as soft drinks, processed baked goods, frozen dinners and cold meats.

The bottom line

Trisodium phosphate is an inorganic phosphate additive commonly added to processed foods.

Although the consumption of small amounts of trisodium phosphate is safe, the daily consumption of foods rich in phosphate additives could harm their health.

High levels of phosphate have been linked to kidney disease, intestinal inflammation, decreased bone density, heart disease and even premature death.

Limiting foods that contain trisodium phosphate and other phosphate additives is especially important for people with kidney disease, heart conditions, inflammatory bowel disease, and osteoporosis.

Minimizing processed foods and concentrating on natural sources of phosphorus, such as eggs, fish, beans and nuts, can help ensure you are getting the right amount of phosphorus to help your body thrive.

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