Meat food additives - beware of phosphates

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Phosphorus is an essential dietary element and may be either organic or inorganic. They are required for bone and teeth formation, involved in the utilisation of carbohydrate and fats, and are critical for the maintenance, repair and growth of all cells and tissues.[1] Naturally occurring organic phosphorous compounds are not completely absorbed by the body and do not pose any known risks for health. In fact reducing intake of these natural phosphates may even result in protein malnutrition.[2] However inorganic food-grade phosphates, usually in the form of either sodium or potassium salts, are readily absorbed and may present a risk to health.[2] 

Inorganic phosphates are used as additives in many meat and poultry products such as sausages, hams and salami, but are not used in fresh meat. They serve many purposes including pH stabilisation, increasing water retention capacity, shelf life extension and the improvement of texture, colour, juiciness and flavour.[1] There is also a suggestion that these added phosphates are beneficial in that they provide an additional supply of essential phosphorous to the diet.[1] [3]

However another, more worrying view is that the impact of phosphate additives on general public health has been underestimated, as high phosphorus intake may be associated with a increased risk of mortality.[2] [4] Indeed several studies verify the harmful effects of these food additives, which include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and the progression of vascular calcification and plaque development within the arteries.[2] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] Elevated phosphorous levels have also been shown to promote bone loss and disordered mineral metabolism.[8] [9] In patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) or on dialysis, an excess of phosphorous can be dangerous[2] [5] [10] and contribute to renal impairment.[6] [7] [8] In fact one study showed that 12% of deaths in patients with advanced CKD (who have an annual mortality rate of 20%) were attributable to elevated serum phosphate.[2] 

Lower socioeconomic groups may be more susceptible to these damaging effects, as they consume more “fast” and processed foods, known to have high phosphate content.[2] Between 1987 and 2007 average phosphorus consumption in the USA increased by 10–15%,[11] and as a result of recent concerns regarding health impact on the population, research is being carried out to find natural organic alternatives.

The role of phosphate additives in meat products is largely commercial, enhancing visual ‘quality’, extending shelf life and enabling more water to be injected into the product. However these commercial benefits come with significant health risks. To avoid excessive phosphate intake, it is advisable to eat fresh meat instead of processed and avoid products containing phosphate additives whenever possible.



[1] Long, N. et al. (2011) Use of phosphates in meat products. African Journal of Biotechnology, 10(86), 19874-19882.

[2]  Ritz, E. et al. (2012) Phosphate additives in food - a health risk. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 109(4), 49-55.

[3]  Carrigan, A. et al. (2014) Contribution of Food Additives to Sodium and Phosphorus Content of Diets Rich in Processed Foods. Journal of Renal Nutrition, 24(1), 13-19.

[4] Chang, A. et al. (2014) High dietary phosphorus intake is associated with all-cause mortality: results from NHANES III. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(2), 320-327.

[5] Sullivan, C. (2007) Phosphorous Containing Food Additives and the Accuracy of Nutrient Databases: Implications for Renal Patients. Journal of Renal Nutrition, 17(5), 350-354.

[6] Kuro-o, M. (2011) A phosphate-centric paradigm for pathophysiology and therapy of chronic kidney disease. Kidney International Supplements, 3(5), 420-426.

[7] Calvo, M. et al. (2014) Assessing the Health Impact of Phosphorus in the Food Supply: Issues and Considerations. Advances in Nutrition, 5(1), 104-113.

[8] Calvo, M. (2013) Public health impact of dietary phosphorus excess on bone and cardiovascular health in the general population. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(1), 6-15.

[9] Giachelli, C. (2009) The Emerging Role of Phosphate in Vascular Calcification. Kidney International, 75(9), 890-897.

[10] Takeda, E. et al. (2014) Increasing Dietary Phosphorus Intake from Food Additives: Potential for Negative Impact on Bone Health. Advances in Nutrition, 5(1), 92-97.

[11]  Noya, C. (2008). Evaluation of a High PH Solution as an Alternative for Phosphate Meat. (1st ed.). USA: ProQuest.


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