Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola

Image Credit: Michael Scheltgen / Flickr. This image has been modified.

What Do Meat Purge and Cola Have in Common?

In my video, Treating Kidney Failure Through Diet, I profiled research suggesting that the use of a plant-based diet for patients with kidney failure would be beneficial. An important function of our kidneys is to filter out excess phosphorus from our bloodstream, so a decline in kidney function can lead to the build-up of phosphorus in our bodies. This in turn can cause something called metastatic calcification, where our heart valves and muscles and other parts of the body can buildup mineral deposits, eventually potentially resulting in bad things like skin necrosis, gangrene, and amputations. Therefore, controlling dietary phosphorus intake is the lynchpin of successful prevention of metastatic calcification. While both plant foods and animal foods have phosphorus, our bodies seem better able to handle phosphorus excretion from plants, so a plant-based diet may help protect against this dreadful condition.

However, we’re beginning to realize that absorbing too much phosphorus isn’t good for anyone, even those with healthy kidneys. Having high levels in our blood has been found to be an independent predictor of heart attacks and mortality in the general population, increasing the risk not only of kidney failure, but also of heart failure, heart attacks, coronary death, and overall death. Dietary intake of phosphate is an important matter not just for persons with kidney disease, but for everybody. It’s thought to cause damage to blood vessels, to accelerate the aging process, and even, potentially, to hurt our bones by contributing to osteoporosis via a disruption of hormonal regulation. The estimated average requirement of phosphorus is less than 600 mg a day, but the estimated average intake in the United States is nearly twice that. How do we stay away from too much of the stuff?

In the video, Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola, we can see the different levels of phosphorus in different foods. It looks like many plant foods have as much phosphorus as many animal foods. So why are plant-based diets so effective in treating kidney failure patients? Because most of the phosphorus in plant foods is found in the form of phytic acid, which we can’t digest. Therefore, while plant and animal foods may have similar phosphate contents, the amount that is bioavailable differs. In plant foods, the bioavailability of phosphates is usually less than 50%, while the bioavailability of most animal products is up around 75%.

So when we adjust for how much actually gets into our system, plant foods are significantly better. It’s like the absorption of heme and non-heme iron: our bodies can protect themselves from absorbing too much plant-based iron, but can’t stop excess muscle and blood-based (heme) iron from animals slipping through the intestinal wall (see my video Risk Associated With Iron Supplements).

The worst kind of phosphorus is in the form of phosphate additives (which are absorbed nearly 100%) that are added, for example, to cola drinks. Why is phosphate added to cola? Without the added phosphate, so many glycotoxins would be produced that the beverage would turn pitch black (see my video on Glycotoxins). Thus, cola drinks owe their brown color to phosphate.

Phosphate additives play an especially important role in the meat industry, where they are used as preservatives for the same reason: to enhance a meat product’s color. Just like the dairy industry adds aluminum to cheese, the meat and poultry industries “enhance” their products by injecting them with phosphates. If one looks at meat industry trade journals and can get past all the macabre ads for “head dropping robots for the kill floor,” you’ll see all ad after ad for injection machines. Why? Because of “increased profitability.” Enhanced meats have better color and less “purge.”

Purge is a term used to describe the liquid that seeps from flesh as it ages. Many consumers find this unattractive, so the industry views phosphate injection as a win-win. When chicken is injected with phosphates, the “consumer benefits through the perception of enhanced quality,” and the processor benefits from increased yield because they just pump it up with water and they sell it by the pound. The problem is that it can boost phosphorus levels in meat nearly 70%, a “real and insidious danger” not only for kidney patients, but for us all.

Another toxic addition to alter the color of meat is arsenic-containing drugs fed directly to chickens (see my video Arsenic in Chicken). Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, anthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish) and titanium dioxide is used to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease). I’m amazed by the risks the food industry will take to alter food cosmetically (more on this in Artificial Food Colors and ADHD).

There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

What else is in poultry purge (chicken “juice”)? Find out in my video, Phosphate Additives in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

9 responses to “What Do Meat Purge and Cola Have in Common?

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  1. “So why are plant-based diets so effective in treating kidney failure patients? Because most of the phosphorus in plant foods is found in the form of phytic acid, which we can’t digest.”

    So if we can’t digest the phosphorous in plants due to phytic acid, is this same phytic acid blocking our absorption of other minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, etc.? Do meats and fish have better absorption rates of minerals and vitamins, due to lack of this phytic acid?…. and by meat and fish, I am referring to the ones that are not being altered or injected by industry.

      1. If my phosphorous to calcium ratio is 5 to 1 (PH/CA), will this eventually lead to bone loss, and or less calcium being absorbed, since it is competing with phosphorous and if phosphorous is always taken in at greater amounts than the calcium, it seems that that alone would limit even more the amount of calcium being absorbed. For instance, if I ate a meal that contained more calcium than PH, versus a meal that contained the same amount of calcium yet far more PH, would the latter meal actually contribute to less of the calcium being absorbed, due to the ratio? Thanks. This all has me confused, but I think there is something here to clear up as many vegans I’ve spoked with on this are concerned, as they too have far greater amounts of PH coming in on a daily basis than CA, yet they are still getting their 100% CA per day. The nutritionist I spoke with thought that the this 100% does not equate to 100% if your PH intake greatly exceeds this 100%, regardless of if the PH is plant-based or not. Thanks, Toxins.

        1. Got to love biochemistry but it is and will always lead to more questions and is in general very confusing when using reductionistic science to “explain” adaptive systems. Toxins points are well taken… as always and I agree. I would add to trust your body to do what it needs to do to maintain equilibrium that your body needs. You body is adept at “pulling” in minerals that it needs. I wouldn’t worry about your ratio and the phytic acid if you are eating a varied whole plant diet. If you start developing symptoms you can visit your health care provider to be checked out. Good luck.

    1. Despite scare tactics from paleo blogs, phytic acid is not known to contribute to mineral deficiencies in the context of balanced diets of adequate nutrition. Not only that, but it appears high-phytate diets appear to reduce bone loss over time and decrease the risk of bone fractures:

      When it comes to overall vitamin and mineral intake, it also appears that those who refrain from eating meat and fish have fewer deficiencies:

      If you’re still concerned about mineral absorption, you can improve zinc and iron absorption by 50% by including garlic and/or onions:

      Regarding your question about this statement: “So why are plant-based diets so effective in treating kidney failure patients? Because most of the phosphorus in plant foods is found in the form of phytic acid, which we can’t digest.”

      Phytate does not block phosphorus absorption. Phytic acid itself contains 6 phosphorus atoms.

      Since phytate does not appear to cause mineral deficincies in healthy people consuming an adequate diet, though does appear to have protective effects against cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (see videos linked in Toxins’ comment), it does not seem rational to restrict consumption of phytate-rich foods.

      1. I think her big concern was if a higher phosphorous intake percentage-wise than a calcium intake percentage-wise on a day to day basis would prevent proper calcium absorption. The concern sort of makes sense to me. I’ve read that a lopsided ratio of phosphorous to calcium – more phosphorous to calcium – is a big no no long-term – – – – – osteo-issues, etc. You look at all the green-munching creatures out there, and they seem to be eating way more calcium than phosphorous.

  2. I get about 5 times the amount of phosphorus than calcium on my vegan diet. Lots of beans and grains seem to load up my phosphorus intake, and I get my calcium primarily from greens but it is difficult to get near as much calcium than phosphorous when the bulk of my intake is grains and beans. Does an un-even phosphorous calcium ratio contribute to bone loss? Calcium being leached out of the bones? Thanks. I see to have lost bone mass since going vegan, and have been suspicious of this phytic acid issue you’ve brought up. My intake of phytic acid is far higher on a vegan diet than it was on a animal products, veggies, fruit diet.

  3. What about chicken broth or beef broth sold in cans? Are they okay to use or are they just as bad as chicken and beef?
    Also, what about fish sauce? Has there been any studies on its health effect?

  4. This is one of the reasons why I am replacing soda with fruit juice. I know it’s much more healthy than drinking chemicals and toxins. I’d like to add how harmful processed food is too. I came across with and thought to myself that I should end all these cravings and make a U-turn to a healthy path.

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