Ever look at the ingredient list on your favorite soda? Chances are, you’ll see phosphoric acid. It’s a common additive in many processed foods. Manufacturers use it to add flavor and maintain freshness.
What Is It?
Phosphoric acid is a colorless, odorless crystalline liquid. It gives soft drinks a tangy flavor and prevents the growth of mold and bacteria, which can multiply easily in a sugary solution. Most of soda’s acidity also comes from phosphoric acid.
Phosphoric acid is made from the mineral phosphorus, which is found naturally in the body. It works with calcium to form strong bones and teeth. It also helps support kidney function and the way your body uses and stores energy. Phosphorus helps your muscles recover after a hard workout. The mineral plays a major role in the body’s growth and is even needed to produce DNA and RNA, the genetic codes of living things.
Phosphorus is first turned to phosphorus pentoxide through a chemical manufacturing process. It’s then treated again to become phosphoric acid.
It’s actually more common to have too much phosphorus than not enough. Phosphorus is found naturally in many foods and phosphoric acid is used as an additive, so most people get enough in their diet.
Your body needs phosphorus, but too much of it can cause problems. Studies suggest that excessive phosphorus intake can put you at risk for osteoporosis and heart disease. Calcium and phosphorus work together to form and maintain healthy teeth and bones. The minerals need to be balanced in order to be effective.
Too much phosphorus can decrease the amount of calcium in your body, leading to bone loss. It can also impair your body’s ability to use other minerals, such as iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Phosphoric acid is dangerous if you come into contact with it as a chemical substance. The toxic fumes can irritate your skin, eyes, and respiratory system.
Safety in Moderation
The recommended daily amount (RDA) of phosphorus needed for normal bodily function is 700 mg. You can get this easily from natural food sources. Foods that are high in protein (e.g. meat, beans, eggs, chicken, and fish) are usually high in phosphorus as well. This means additional phosphoric acid from processed food and soda is likely more than the body needs.
Dark-colored sodas tend to have more phosphoric acid. The exception to this rule is root beer, which contains very little.]
Because so many of us drink sodas and eat processed foods, some health professionals are concerned about the American diet when it comes to phosphoric acid. For example, one soda may have up to 500 mg of phosphoric acid. People who take in 4,000 mg per day of phosphorus are considered at high risk for negative health effects associated with phosphorus.
Adults with kidney disease are recommended to have no more than 800 to 1,000 mg of phosphorus a day. Kidneys help the body get rid of extra phosphorus, but too much phosphorus can build up in the blood if they’re not functioning well.
Still want to get your soft drink fix? Some drinks on the market don’t use phosphoric acid or use very small amounts.
Clear carbonated drinks such as ginger ale, lemon-lime sodas, and flavored seltzers are all good choices if you’re trying to cut down on phosphoric acid. Plain seltzer water also doesn’t contain the additive.