What is trisodium phosphate?
Sodium phosphate refers to a group of food additives derived from phosphorus.
These additives are made from various combinations of sodium and inorganic phosphates.
Phosphorus is an important mineral found naturally in foods such as milk, beans, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and nuts.
This naturally occurring phosphorus is called organophosphorus and is essential for bone health, cell repair, muscle contraction and nerve function, among other important processes.
Inorganic phosphorus includes phosphorus-derived food additives, such as trisodium phosphate, which are added as ingredients to foods.
Trisodium phosphate is one of the most common sodium phosphate additives and can be found in a variety of foods.
It and other phosphate additives are commonly used in fast food and other highly processed products.
Why is trisodium phosphate added to food?
Trisodium phosphate and other sodium phosphate additives have a variety of uses in the food industry and are present 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 leavening agents in baked goods, meaning they help dough rise and hold its shape.
For example, trisodium phosphate is a common ingredient in store-bought breads, cakes, muffins, and cake mixes because of its ability to add volume and height to these items.
It is also often added to meat and seafood products such as bacon, sausages, deli meats and canned tuna to help retain moisture, extend shelf life and prevent spoilage.
Additionally, the sodium phosphate additive helps balance the pH of these foods, preventing them from becoming too acidic or too alkaline, which can cause the food to spoil more quickly.
In addition, sodium phosphate additives act as a thickener or leavening agent in processed foods and prevent the separation of oil and water in processed cheese products.
Is trisodium phosphate safe to eat?
Although some types of sodium phosphate are used in cleaning and painting products, it's important to know that they are not the same as food-grade sodium phosphate.
Food-grade sodium phosphate is used around the world and is considered safe by major regulatory agencies such as the FDA and the European Union.
Eating small amounts of foods containing sodium phosphate is likely not harmful to your health.
However, with many people consuming fast food, processed meats and packaged foods on a daily basis, there are concerns that high levels of sodium phosphate can cause harm to the body.
Organophosphorus occurs naturally in foods such as dairy and meat, and is absorbed much lower and more slowly than the inorganic phosphorus (sodium phosphate) added to processed foods.
The absorption rate of organic phosphorus is much lower than that of inorganic phosphorus.
The digestive system absorbs only 40-60% of organic phosphorus, while it absorbs up to 100% of inorganic phosphorus found in foods such as cereals, cakes, sodas and deli meats.
Because inorganic phosphorus is more readily absorbed by the digestive tract, it affects the body differently than organic phosphorus.
Eating too many foods containing sodium phosphate additives can raise phosphate levels in the body to unhealthy levels.
Research shows that high levels of phosphate are linked to conditions such as heart disease, reduced bone density, premature aging, kidney problems, and even premature death.
Who should avoid using phosphate additives?
While consuming too much sodium phosphate is not good for anyone's health, small amounts are considered safe.
However, people with certain medical conditions should avoid foods containing sodium phosphate additives.
People with kidney disease or kidney failure
When the kidneys are healthy and functioning properly, they filter waste products from the blood, including excess phosphorus.
However, when the kidneys are damaged, such as in people with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, they lose the ability to excrete waste properly.
People with kidney failure or end-stage chronic kidney disease need to limit their phosphorus intake to avoid high levels of phosphorus in the blood.
Taking in too much phosphorus can damage blood vessels and cause abnormal calcium buildup, further damaging already damaged kidneys.
In fact, higher phosphorus intake is associated with an increased risk of death in patients with kidney failure receiving hemodialysis.
People with osteoporosis and osteopenia
Foods in your diet that are high in sodium phosphate additives may harm bone health. Maintaining normal phosphorus levels in the body is essential for strong bones. However, disrupting this delicate balance by consuming too much or too little phosphorus can wreak havoc on the skeletal system.
A study of about 150 premenopausal women showed that habitually consuming large amounts of foods containing phosphate additives can lead to elevated levels of parathyroid hormone, a hormone that regulates calcium levels throughout the body. Parathyroxine signals the body to release calcium from bones to balance calcium levels in the body. Abnormally high levels of parathyroid hormone can lead to excessive loss of calcium from the bones, which can impair bone health.
people with heart disease
Excessive consumption of sodium phosphate additives can also damage the heart.
In fact, high circulating phosphorus levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease in people with and without kidney disease.
Too much phosphorus in the body can cause calcification of blood vessels, which can damage the heart.
Studies have found that higher blood phosphate levels are associated with increased coronary artery calcification and other heart disease risk factors.
Studies have shown that serum phosphate levels above 3.9 mg/dL are associated with a significantly increased risk of coronary artery calcification after 15 years.
People with inflammatory bowel disease
Studies in humans and rats have found that elevated phosphorus causes inflammation in the body.
Animal studies show that high intakes of inorganic phosphorus can exacerbate intestinal inflammation.
Inflammation is at the root of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). An animal study suggests that a diet rich in inorganic phosphates may worsen symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Mice fed a high-phosphate diet had more signs of inflammation, intestinal inflammation, and bloody stools than mice fed a low-phosphate diet.
How to limit your intake of phosphate additives
Getting the recommended amounts of phosphorus through a healthy, balanced diet is not difficult because organic phosphorus occurs naturally in many foods.
However, if you eat a diet high in processed foods, you're likely getting more phosphorus than your body needs, which is bad for your health.
Phosphorus intake has increased steadily over time due to increased consumption of phosphorus-containing food additives such as trisodium phosphate.
Shockingly, research shows that when following a Westernized diet, phosphorus additives in processed foods can account for up to 50% of total daily phosphorus intake.
To avoid consuming too much phosphorus from food additives, limit the following:
- deli meats
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Commercially prepared breakfast bars
- Cake flour
- canned tuna
- fruit flavored drinks
- Sweetened iced tea
- Processed baked goods
- frozen dinner
- Boxed Macaroni and Cheese
- fast food
- non-dairy creamer
- flavored water
- cheese sauce
In addition to containing large amounts of sodium phosphate additives, processed foods often contain large amounts of sugar, fat, calories, and preservatives, all of which are unhealthy when consumed in excess.
Trisodium phosphate is an inorganic phosphate additive commonly added to processed foods.
While trisodium phosphate is safe when consumed in small amounts, consuming foods rich in phosphate additives on a daily basis may harm your health.
High phosphate levels have been linked to kidney disease, intestinal inflammation, reduced bone density, heart disease and even premature death.
Limiting foods containing trisodium phosphate and other phosphate additives is especially important for people with kidney disease, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and osteoporosis.
Minimizing processed foods and focusing on natural sources of phosphorus, such as eggs, fish, beans and nuts, can help ensure you're getting the right amount of phosphorus to help your body thrive.