Phosphorus Useful for Far More than Cola

A quick glance at the beverage shelf shows phosphorous being used mostly in dark cola beverages. But there’s more to this mineral than you might think.

By Rebecca Jensen

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Processors, especially beverage processors, are familiar with phosphorous as an additive. But this important mineral should get another look, if only for its role in bone health. Based on the International Food Additives Council's (IFAC) report, an estimated 10 million adults in the U.S. suffer from osteoporosis. That number is only likely to grow, considering the expected doubling of the 65-and-up population in the next few decades. Studies vary, but most agree older adults and young children are not getting sufficient phosphorus.

"Deficiency of phosphorus may lead to osteomalacia (bone deterioration), myopathy, growth failure and defects in leukocyte (white blood cell) function," explains Dalip K. Nayyar, Ph.D., principal scientist for Kraft Foods Global Inc. (www.kraft.com), Glenview, Ill.. "Phosphorus plays an indispensable role in numerous biochemical reactions, such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP -- the energy source for living cells). The mineral is also involved in the release of energy from fat, protein and carbohydrates during metabolism and the formation of genetic material, cell membranes and enzymes.

According to Nayyar, the food industry incorporates food-grade phosphorus in the form of phosphates   phosphoric acid salts   and into an extremely wide range of food products. They impart many positive attributes and perform various functional duties, such as acidification, binding for meats and seafood, emulsification (especially in cheeses), pH buffering in beverages and non-dairy creamers, leavening agents in bakery products, microbial inhibition and metal-complexing in beverages. They provide textural improvements to puddings, as well as oxidative and color stability and increase moisture retention, working as absorbents, dispersants, conditioners or excipients.

Note to Ops

"It is important to note phosphorus is usually added in combination with a counter mineral such as calcium, magnesium, or potassium," says Sheila McWilliams, product development scientist in Watson's nutritional ingredients division. "It is also important to consider the solubility of the mineral depending on the type of food application to be fortified. The typical forms of calcium phosphates are insoluble and so work better for bar applications or meal-replacement beverages." Processors marketing health food and beverage products for infants and older adults should consider taking advantage of the advancements in mineral premixes offered by several nutraceutical companies.

In the body, most phosphorus is found in the bones. The mineral is constantly being recycled, and must be resupplied through food, supplements or in other organic forms. While the RDA levels depend on age, the daily recommendation is 1,250mg for youth age 9 to 18 years and 700mg for adults 19 years and older.

Since it is critical to so many biological processes, phosphorous is considered by health experts to be one of the top three essential minerals. But in its current use as a preservative, the amount of phosphorus typically included in a formulation isn't enough to have a significant nutraceutical impact. Currently, sports beverages, such as PepsiCo's Gatorade and Propel, employ phosphorous in a more "health proactive" manner as part of a balanced electrolyte formula for restoration and rehydration.

Many processors can combine phosphates with other minerals and vitamins to increase their potency and bioavailability when included in food and beverage formulations. Phosphates work synergistically with other minerals, especially calcium, where they help the body utilize calcium for bone health. When combined with sodium chloride (NaCl), phosphorous can reduce salt requirement and offset cook-chill moisture loss.

"Iron phosphates can be used as an iron source in the fortification of food and beverage products," says Ona Scandurra, technical sales and marketing specialist for Dr. Paul Lohmann Inc. (www.lohmann-inc.com), Huntington Station, N.Y. The company provides iron phosphates (such as ferric pyrophosphate) for food and beverage processing. Watson Inc. (www.watson-inc.com), West Haven, Conn., also develops custom nutrient blends for the food industry which include phosphorus additions to premix formulations.

A number of other companies, for example Zila Nutraceuticals (www.zila.com), Prescott, Ariz.; Phosphagenics Ltd. (www.phosphagenics.com), Melbourne, Australia; and ICL also have patented products that combine vitamins or minerals with phosphates to decrease sodium content in leavened products, beverages, dairy products and protein sources while specifically targeting certain conditions such as inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

There currently are no permissible health claims for the use of phosphorous in food and beverage processing. Barbara Heidolph, market development manager at ICL Performance Products LP (www.astaris.com), St. Louis, however, sees possibility in a current petition by the International Food Additives Council (IFAC), Atlanta. "If the FDA approves the IFAC's petition to include phosphorus in a claim related to bone health and prevention of osteoporosis, it would read something along the lines of, ‘regular exercise and healthy diet with enough calcium and phosphorous helps maintain good bone health and may reduce the high risk of osteoporosis later in life' she explains."

This is big news for a mineral that gets short shrift compared to calcium and iron.

Once the dust has settled, processors that take advantage of phosphate supplements in new food and beverage products may be able to claim a definite health advantage for their consumers and over their competitors.

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