Slipping Through the Cracks: GRAS 201

GRAS substances range from something as widely used as sodium and caffeine to more obscure chemicals such as theobromine and polyglutamic acid.  GRAS designations have been made since the 1950‘s and those reports from the late 50’s through the 80’s are based on data and research from these periods.  As you can imagine, research technology has advanced leaps and bounds since then.  What the research said back then and what it might say today is an interesting (and alarming) notion.  For example, the GRAS report for phosphate-containing compounds (see here) dates back to 1975.

For those thinking “phosphates? I don’t consume those…do I?”  The use of phosphates in foods has widely increased over the years.  In fact, these compounds are used in an array of processed foods such cheese, sausage, beverages, bakery products, and potato products.  Look at the ingredient list of any McDonald’s or Burger King chicken sandwich or nuggets, and you will see phosphates.  These substances are among those un-pronounceable words that we should try to avoid in the first place and can be listed in an ingredient list as ammonium phosphate, calcium hexametaphosphate, calcium phosphate, calcium pyrophosphate, phosphoric acid, potassium phosphate, potassium polymetaphosphate, and sodium acid pyrophosphate just to name a few!

Addition to the science vastly improving since the 1970’s, the language of the GRAS report for phosphate-containing compounds distinctively indicates that phosphates (as consumed back in 1970’s) are considered safe IF calcium and vitamin D levels are adequate.  Ironically, sadly, and alarmingly (all in one), the intake of phosphates has drastically increased and calcium and vitamin D are nutrients of concern some 37 years later.  In fact, research shows that increased phosphorous intakes (phosphorous makes up phosphates) coupled with low calcium intakes may have impacts on bone health and activity of the parathyroid gland (read here). With this in mind, certainly the data should be re-evaluated by the FDA to ensure the safety of these chemicals.   But then again, the FDA isn’t saying these substances are safe in the first place, but instead safe merely “generally” speaking…

The FDA thinks it’s OK to provide the U.S. population with substances in foods that are “generally” safe, but do you want to take the chance of feeding your family and children foods these foods?

If you’re currently consuming a lot of processed food products, now is the time to cut back on (or even out) these “generally” safe foods.  But always remember, change is a process!

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