What Do Your Food and Laundry Soap Have in Common? Phosphates

Have you ever seen reports like this about huge swaths of algae that cover some of China's rivers and lakes?

Those algal blooms aren't a good thing. In fact, algal blooms on such large scales end up suffocating marine life and cause severe problems for local ecosystems. What most people don't know is that our basic every day lives are to blame for causing such algal blooms. What specifically? Phosphates. And where can you find phosphates?

In your bath products and in your food.

What Do Your Food and Laundry Soap Have in Common? Phosphates

So What Are Phosphates?

Phosphates are complicated chemical compounds that contain phosphorus. Phosphorus is mineral that occurs in nature, and it is included in many different items used in everyday life, including cleaning and baking products.

What Are Phosphates Used For?

In cleaning products, phosphates is used to help soften water and remove dirt, oil and grease. Although phosphates have been banned from most household products in the United States, different states have their own regulations on phosphate content in industrial and commercial cleansers. Prior to the 1990s, compounds containing phosphates were widely used in laundry detergents and dish-washing cleansers in American households.

However, this doesn't mean phosphorus doesn't still exist in other products. They can be found in paints and polishes, fire retardants, coatings and coverings. Even more worrying, even though the use of phosphates has been banned from laundry detergents, they can still be found in medicinal items, personal bath products and even certain processed foods.

Why Are There Phosphates in My Food?

Dairy products have a naturally high amount of phosphates, including certain cereals, nuts and meats. Meanwhile, phosphorous in the form of "free phosphates" is often included in the things we eat that require some form of preservatives to remain "fresh." Fast food in particular have higher levels of phosphate additives, contributing to heart disease.

Soft drinks are the worst when it comes to phosphate content. Phosphate-based additives are added to sugary sodas to help them last longer or taste a certain way. These compounds are usually phosphoric acid that give soft drinks high acidity, which is absorbed into the bloodstream when consumed.

How Do Phosphates Affect My Health?

Although phosphorus is a naturally occurring mineral, and phosphates can be found naturally in our bodies and certain foods, this doesn't mean ingesting it or using it on a regular basis is a good idea. 

Research has shown that those who consume foods containing phosphates on a regular basis are causing significant harm to their health. Phosphates that are ingested are reabsorbed through our gastrointestinal tracts, and has been shown to cause kidney disease. The resulting higher levels of phosphate in the bloodstream also causes damage to blood vessels, releases calcium from bones and contributes to aging.

Although the human body should only get an intake of just over 700 milligrams of phosphates a day, regular consumption of phosphate-laden food means many people end up absorbing an additional 1,000 milligrams per day.

How Do Phosphates Affect the Environment?

The reason why phosphates were banned in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s was because Lake Erie and Lake Ontario were found to be heavily polluted with it. This was due to runoff from waste systems filled with common household detergents that were filled with phosphates.

Phosphates do not break down easily in ordinary water processing systems, and when they flow into streams, lakes and rivers, the algae living in these areas feed off of the phosphates, depleting the area of oxygen that is needed by other aquatic creatures, thus starving the ecosystem and harming the sustainability of the local environment.

What Are Alternatives to Phosphates?

Most natural food stores and brands advertising eco-friendly products carry cleansers and detergents that claim to be phosphate-free. However, there are also other alternatives to household and personal cleaning by opting to use all-natural ingredients to get the job done.

I personally often turn to baking soda and vinegar to get my housecleaning done. You know you can easily make your own laundry detergent with a little baking soda and washing soda? I also pretty much only use things that are edible as personal bath products.

Not only do these methods work, it makes me feel pretty good to know that I'm not dumping toxic chemicals down the drain!

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