Nutrition experts warn that phosphate additives will be the “trans fats of the future.” Why is this a worry for our kids? Because the compound, often found in fast and processed food, can compromise bone health.

Why did the concerned mom cross the road? To get a healthier chicken sandwich.

Fast-food chicken and other foods are under the gun for an ingredient that generally is healthy, but in some cases can actually be harmful: phosphates.

The use of phosphate additives in fast foods, canned soups, cheese and baked goods has more than doubled since the 1990s. However, it is unclear how much we consume since it is not always listed.

This can be a threat to our kids, since too much added phosphorus (versus natural phosphates) can compromise bone strength and lead to other health problems, contends Christy Brissette, a dietician who wrote about phosphates in The Washington Post.

“Mark my words, phosphate additives will be the trans fats of the future,” she writes.

Know your phosphate additives

Phosphate additives should not be confused with natural phosphates, found in dairy, nuts, eggs and poultry. We need that – kids especially – to make protein, store energy and support bone health.

The compound additive of phosphorus is different. It is used to add color and flavor, make baked goods rise, emulsify soups and enhance the juiciness of chicken and meats after freezing and heating. Its prevalence alone means our bodies are getting more of it. Exacerbating this increase is that phosphate additives are thought to be more readily absorbed by our bodies.

While 40 percent to 60 percent of natural phosphates are absorbed, up to 90 percent of phosphate additives may be, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

In short, if your kiddos drink lots of soda, they’re likely absorbing a lot of phosphoric acid.

Why worry?

So is this too much of a good thing? The answer depends on the source. The Food and Drug Administration considers phosphates safe for “intended use foods.” OK, sounds good.

But other research has linked “high-normal” levels of phosphates in the blood to diminished bone health or bone loss. Studies also have linked it to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“Excess amounts may disrupt calcium absorption as well as hormonal regulation of phosphorus, calcium and vitamin D,” statesBerkeley Wellness, a publication of the University of California.

Stoking the concerns is the widespread use of phosphate additives. It’s more than doubled over the past 27 years – yikes! But because the additive is not required to be listed on food and beverage labels, it is unclear how much we actually eat.

What to do

 That being said, phosphate additives are listed in ingredients lists.

Parents can keep an eye out for words that contain “phos-“ in foods ranging from cereal to yogurt. In meats, fish and poultry, pay attention to the sodium levels. If it contains more than 120 milligrams in a 4-ounce serving, it may have been enhanced with phosphate salt.

The best rule of thumb is to avoid foods that contain additives and ingredients that look unfamiliar. Opt for foods with ingredients your kids can pronounce, as well as fresh veggies because they pack the nutrients essential for healthy growth.

When it comes to good health, the question may not be whether to eat the chicken or the egg, but how it was processed. So choose on the side of all-natural – whether it comes to chicken, beverages or veggie dips.

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