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Food Phosphates

1. Where do phosphates come from ?

Phosphorus is naturally present in nearly all foodstuffs. It is absorbed by the human body in the form of phosphates.
The main sources of food phosphates are proteins, in particular eggs, meat and dairy products, and wholegrain cereals. Sea creatures absorb and concentrate marine phosphates naturally in their scales, bones and shells. Their remains, accumulated on the seabed for millions of years, have formed huge deposits in certain places, such as Morocco, South Africa and the USA. Phosphoric acid is isolated from this natural phosphate ore using many different purification processes.

2. Why do our bodies require phosphates ?

Phosphorus is the sixth(*) most important component of our bodies, mainly in the form of phosphates. Phosphates are key components of DNA, cell structures and energy transmission in cells, as well as bones and teeth, and are involved in many biological processes. They are essential to the health of all living creatures.

As our bodies regularly excrete phosphates through the kidneys, it is vital that we constantly replenish our supplies.

To ensure good health, the minimum RDA is 700 mg for adults, 800 mg for pregnant women and 1,250 mg for teenagers.

Phosphorus and calcium intake need to be balanced, as high doses of either may prevent assimilation of the other. This is why some women who are given calcium supplements for osteoporosis also need to take phosphate supplements.

(*)Hydrogen 63%; oxygen 25% (including body water content), carbon 9.5%; nitrogen 1.4%; calcium 0.33%; phosphorus 0.22%

3. Why does the food industry require food phosphates ?

Phosphates are used to improve foodstuffs. They have a wide range of properties which enable the best aspects of foodstuffs to be preserved. Without phosphates, many farm products would be past their best before they reached consumers’ plates.

    Phosphates are used for a number of purposes:
  • To preserve natural taste and color
  • To preserve the natural juices of meat and crustaceans
  • To prevent the development of certain bacteria
  • To ensure even rising of cakes and pastries during baking
  • To ensure the homogeneity of dairy products
  • To encourage the development of ‘good’ bacteria in cheeses
  • To improve the free-flowing properties of powdered foodstuffs
  • To reactivate certain ingredients in pharmaceuticals
  • To prevent contamination of drinking water
  • etc.

4. Which foodstuffs contain phosphates ?

Almost 90% of the phosphates consumed in Europe are used in fertilizers, detergents and food supplements for farm animals. Food phosphates account for only 1% of phosphate consumption, and the phosphates used in water treatment for 0.1%.

The food industry uses phosphates for cakes and pastries, meats, poultry and delicatessen products, frozen seafood, processed cheeses, dairy products, fried potatoes, soups and sauces, powdered foods, alcoholic beverages, dietary supplements and medicines

5. Are food phosphates hazardous to health ?

There have been many studies into the effect of food phosphates on the human body. All have demonstrated that industrial food phosphates are not toxic. They are assimilated in the same manner as the phosphates which occur naturally in foodstuffs.

The quantities of food phosphates added to foodstuffs are tiny. Depending on the application, the authorized maximum ranges from 0.07% to 4%. On average, the proportions used by industry are 0.35% in meat, 2.5% in processed cheeses, 0.4% in cakes and 0.05% in colas.

The vast majority of phosphates occur naturally in high-protein foods such as meat, eggs, fish and cereals.

Total phosphate intake therefore depends less on what has been added industrially than on the type of foods eaten. Contrary to a widespread belief, phosphates are no more toxic than other regularly consumed products such as vinegar, bicarbonate of soda or table salt.

Of course, high doses administered in laboratories can have a negative impact on health, such as temporary nausea in humans or kidney malfunction (observed in rats injected with extreme doses).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in 2005 that excessive phosphorus intake does not negatively affect humans unless they are suffering from severe kidney trouble.

In the United States and Canada, the health authorities have set the maximum daily phosphorus intake at 3,000-5,000 mg per day, depending on body mass. In 2003, the average national daily intake was 1,260 mg per day.

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