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Dangerous Phosphorous in Fast Food

Feb 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

A recent study has revealed that much of today’s processed and fast foods contains phosphorus additives, a problem for people with advanced kidney disease.  Reuters reported that those with advanced kidney disease are advised to avoid foods naturally high in phosphorus, according to research just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Phosphorus, a naturally occurring mineral in certain foods, presents problems for patients with compromised kidneys, now phosphorus is an even bigger problem since processed and fast foods containing phosphorus additives can be just as dangerous to those suffering from advanced kidney disease, said Reuters.

High blood levels of phosphorus (hyperphosphatemia) can lead to a variety of disorders in patients with advanced kidney disease, such as heart and bone disease, and even death.  People with advanced kidney disease are generally advised to avoid some meats, dairy, whole grains, and nuts, all of which are naturally high in phosphorus.  Now, phosphorus is being added to foods to enhance flavors and extend shelf life and is often found in meats, cheese, baked goods, and processed drinks.  Worse, points out Reuters, it is difficult for consumers to figure out which foods do and do not contain the additive.  Dr. Ashwini R. Sehgal and colleagues, who conducted the research at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, reported that it has become more and more common for food makers to add phosphate salts to processed foods.

The team conducted a randomized study of 279 patients suffering from kidney disease and who also tested with high blood phosphorus levels.  Once patients were taught to avoid foods known to contain the additives, their phosphorus levels dropped, said Reuters.  A group of 145 so-called “intervention” patients were provided with information on known phosphorus-containing additives and healthy alternatives for use when grocery shopping and eating out.  The 134 “control” group participants received standard care and did not receive any lists, reported Reuters.  At three months, phosphorus levels declined two and a half times more in those patients from the intervention group over those who did not receive information on foods known to contain phosphorus and phosphorus additives.

US News and World Report noted that patients with moderate to severe kidney disease have problems eliminating phosphorus, which can lead to a buildup of it in the body, which, in turn, increasing the risk of illness and death.  PhosAdd noted that processed soft and soda drinks, especially colas and “fizzy” lemonade; fruit syrup drinks and cordials; chocolates, candies, and other novelty foods containing high citric acid and sugar contents; ice cream; skim milk powder, a common processed food ingredient; supermarket biscuits, cookies, and cakes; ketchup and mayonnaise, fish “fingers”; processed and soft cheese spread cheeses; frozen pizzas; hot dogs and other processed meats; and baking powder and self-rising flour, which often contains phosphate aerator should be avoided by consumers seeking to avoid phosphorus in their diets.  PhosAdd also noted that foods listing mineral salts, emulsifiers, and lecithin should be avoided for those seeking to avoid phosphorus.

Reuters said the research recommended mandates to include phosphorus content on food labels, and creating incentives for marketing low-phosphorus products.


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