DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Researchers at UT-Southwestern are looking at long-term effects of food additives and preservatives.

The research focuses on inorganic phosphates, which are added to foods like cereals, packaged snacks and sodas.

“Inorganic phosphates are added to foods help preserve color, freshness, taste and texture,” Dr. Lona Sandon, Assistant Professor at UT-Southwestern’s Clinical Nutrition Department told CBS 11.

These synthetic phosphates, like other food additives, are FDA approved and considered safe to eat, but researchers like Dr. Lona Sandon say researchers don’t really know its long term effects.

In a study published in the journal Circulation, the team found mice eating foods high in inorganic phosphates became less active.

They were less active, ate more food and their ability to burn fat decreased according to the study’s senior author Dr. Wanpen Vongpatanasin.

“That is suggesting that phosphate additives can actually reduce fitness and make our body age for ten years without doing anything wrong other than taking those additives,” Dr. Vongpatanasin said.

food additives (CBS 11)

The team also analyzed data from participants in a heart study and saw similar results in humans.

It is easy to spot inorganic phosphates in your food. You can find them listed under ingredients on the box. Look for compounds containing the letters “PHOS.”

Dr. Vongpatanasin says phosphates in their natural form help our body produce energy. Natural phosphates are found in legumes, nuts and whole grains.

Nitrites are another food additive to watch for, generally found in deli meat and bacon to extend the shelf life. It can cause headache and sometimes a rash.

Inorganic sulfites are added to food to enhance flavor. It’s often found in wine, or pickled condiments and dressings. It appears on the label as a compound like sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite etc.

“People might experience headaches, coughing or wheezing,” Dr. Sandon said.

Doctors say one of the most concerning additives according to health experts is sodium and we are not talking about table salt. Sodium is often combined with other additives. It appears under the ingredients in compounds like disodium phosphate or sodium bicarbonate. Too much salt in the diet can lead to diseases like hypertension.

So how much should we be consuming?

Doctors recommend 700 milligrams a day, but there are no mandated for the food industry to tell us how much is in an item.

Researchers believe one-third of us are eating three to four times what’s recommended.

Researchers say opt for whole foods whenever possible.

“When you cook things from scratch and you’re not using boxed items then you have less food additives going into your food,” Dr. Sandon said