Controversial food additive ‘used in bacon makes you lazy’

A controversial additive added to bacon, sausages and fizzy drinks can make you lazy, according to research.

Tests have also uncovered evidence that phosphate, heavily consumed in the Western diet, can impair metabolism.

Scientists warn the results add to a ‘growing chorus’ of voices calling for levels of phosphate should be curbed in the food industry.

Estimates suggests a quarter of adults consume at least three times more of the food additive than is recommended. 

Phosphates are added to an array of foods to prolong their shelf life and add flavour.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas used human and mice for their study.

For the first study, researchers led by Dr Wanpen Vongpatanasin, fed two groups of mice similar diets – except one had triple the levels of phosphates.

Rodents who consumed the high-phosphate diet for 12 weeks spent less time on the treadmill at the end of the trial, compared to the other mice.

Results published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation also showed the mice had a reduced ability to burn fat.

And a further analysis revealed they had changes in more than 5,000 genes that aid in processing fatty acids and metabolism.

Dr Vongpatanasin and colleagues then examined the effects of high phosphate levels and physical activity in 1,600 humans.

The results of the seven-day trial found higher blood levels of the additive was linked to spending less time exercising.

The researchers said up to 25 per cent of adults living in the US regularly consume at least triple the recommended daily amount of phosphate.

They are thought to be present in up to 70 per cent of top-selling foods, including prepared frozen food, packaged meat and bakery products.

In the US, adults are urged to consume no more than 700 mg of phosphorus – of which phosphate is a particle – each day, according to the Institute of Medicine.

In contrast, the recommended daily allowance for adults aged between 19 and 50 in the UK is no more than 550mg a day of phosphorus.

Dr Myles Wolf, professor of medicine and chief of nephrology at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina, praised the findings.

He said: ‘There’s relatively low awareness of dietary phosphate as a potential harmful food constituent in excessive amounts.’

Dr Wolf added the findings add to ‘a growing chorus’ that suggests more attention should be paid to dietary phosphate consumption.

Current US and UK laws do not require manufactures to reveal how much phosphate is contained in foods.

Dr Vongpatanasin said this makes it difficult for people to monitor their own phosphate intake and keep it within the recommended levels.

He added: ‘I think it might be about time for us to push the food industry to put this on labels so that we can see how much phosphate goes into our food.’

Phosphate can be found naturally in some foods, including nuts, eggs and dairy products, as well as being used as an additive.

The NHS warns that having too much phosphate in the blood can cause red eyes and itchy skin, as well as weakening bones and raising the risk of heart disease.

Kidneys eliminate excess phosphate from the body, meaning an overload of the additive can be a problem for people with impaired kidneys.

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