Updated: A Call for Phosphorus Labelling
The Government of Canada has proposed changes that will improve the way nutrition information is presented on food labels. The proposed label changes, such as including potassium on the Nutrition Facts Table, reflect feedback received by Health Canada from parents and consumers during round table sessions and an online consultation in the winter 2014 (see all proposed changes here: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/alt/pdf/health-system-systeme-sante/consultations/food-label-etiquette-des-aliments/process-processus-eng.pdf).
The inclusion of potassium content in the Nutrition Facts table will help Canadians with chronic kidney disease make informed decisions for their health, as monitoring potassium intake is critical for patients. However, The Kidney Foundation of Canada strongly recommends that phosphorus also be listed on the Nutrition Facts table to allow those with chronic kidney disease to make informed decisions for their health..
Why is Phosphorus Labelling So Important?
One of the functions of the kidneys is to remove extra phosphorus (an essential mineral that occurs naturally in our food, water, and bodies) from our blood and excrete it in our urine. Some phosphorus is required for growth, maintenance, and repair of all body tissues, as well as health bone formation and growth. But, for someone with chronic kidney disease, having too much phosphorus in their blood for a long time, can make their bones weak, and cause minerals to build up in places they shouldn’t, like the heart, blood vessels, lungs, skin, and joints. Large amounts of phosphorus in the blood are also strongly linked with cardiovascular diseases and events, and death, even in persons with or without chronic kidney disease.1
Although normally our kidneys do a good job of removing extra phosphorus from our blood, sick or damaged kidneys aren’t so great at it. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is by following a low phosphorus diet, as prescribed by your Registered Dietitian. However, following a low phosphorus diet can be quite tricky.
The main challenge to following a low phosphorus diet is that phosphorus is not reported on the Nutrition Facts Table. While patients can avoid food known to be naturally high in phosphorus, avoiding phosphorus additives is much more difficult. Phosphorus additives are used in a variety of food products including breads, cereals, dairy products, pasta, meats, seafood, and canned fruits and vegetables2 to improve the appearance, texture, and shelf life of the food product.3 While checking the ingredients lists for phosphorus additives is a good place to start, the list doesn’t tell us how much phosphorus is in a food product.
Leaving phosphorus off the Nutrition Facts Table prevents patients from being empowered to manage their kidney disease effectively and it puts them at unnecessary risk of serious medical complications, and even death. The Kidney Foundation of Canada strongly recommends that the phosphorus content be listed on the Nutrition Facts table to allow Canadians to make informed decisions for their health.
With acknowledgement to Emily Robins, Dietetic Intern, Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario, for her assistance in preparing this information.
1. Leon, J., Sullivan, C., & Sehgal, A. (2013). The prevalence of phosphorus containing food additives in top selling foods in grocery stores. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 23(4), 265-270. doi: 10.1053/j.jrn.2012.12.003
2. International Food Additives Council. (2015). Phosphates. Retrieved from: http://www.foodadditives.org/phosphates/phosphates_used_in_food.html
3. Benini, O., D’Alessandro, C., Gianfaldoni, D., & Cupisti, A. (2011). Extra phosphate load from food additives in commonly eaten foods: a real and insidious danger for renal patients. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 21(4), 303-308. doi:10.1053/j.jrn.2010.06.021