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Phosphate! A Neglected Modern Health Threat

      Phosphate additives are widely used in processed foods. Experts and scholars warn that phosphate will probably become a new threat to human health similar to trans-fatty acids, and we should think of ways to cope with the problem soon.

      Jin Huimin, the director of the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition, Taipei City Hospital, points out that in the age of the rapid advancement in food science and technology, a wide variety of processed foods have been developed to meet consumers’ demands. In order to enhance the flavor and appearance, extend the shelf life and reduce the cost, the manufacturers add various kinds of food additives, among which phosphates are widely used in many hot pot ingredients (meat balls and dumplings), processed meat (sausage and ham), instant noodles, instant creamy soups, powders, ice cream and carbonated beverages.

      At present, there are nearly 600-plus phosphate-containing additives which have been approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare; these are widely used in processed foods to provide their characteristic functions of water retention, adhesion, bridging, bacterial inhibition, flavor increase and food caking prevention. Added into carbonated beverages, phosphates can adjust colors, acidify and inhibit bacteria. The phosphates in baking powder will make bread, snacks and cookies plump and fluffy. In the past, the bread industry often used aluminum salts as the leavening agent, but later discarded them because of people’s worry about the effect of aluminum on dementia. Now the use of phosphate-containing leavening agents or flour improving agents can also potentially damage our hearts and kidneys.

      Jin Huimin emphasizes that the new technology may bring us both convenience and health threats. We need clear labels of food additives in order to effectively pursue food safety. People should stop going after food with impossible flavor and taste and try instead to choose natural and less-processed foods.