Phosphorus: How to Keep It In Check

Fact: every nutrient we take into our body does, in some way, serve a purpose.

For example, sodium helps the body regulate its fluids. Protein, on the other hand, mainly builds our muscles, tissues, and organs. And potassium adds to the functions of the two, helping muscle-building and fluid regulation.

That said, phosphorus is one of the minerals necessary for bone development, along with calcium. This is why milk is good for the bones because it’s a great source of both nutrients.

However, one could easily go overboard with phosphorus, without even realizing it.

The Truth about Phosphorus in Your Food

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), phosphorus additives in food are “generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe,” when used as intended. 

They are also not “subject to pre-market review and approval by FDA” and are not required to be indicated in nutrition facts and labels.

While phosphorus additives serve a lot of purposes (i.e., as acidifiers, taste enhancers, or leavening agents, among others), your damaged kidneys will have a hard time filtering these out of your system. Add to that the fact that most food items today have more than 2 kinds of phosphorus additive.

What’s makes it worse? Often, the phosphorus content of certain food items based on direct chemical analysis do not match what is in food composition databases. 

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Information from nutrition databanks alarmingly underestimate the actual phosphorus content of your food. You could be consuming copious amounts of phosphorus without knowing it.

Which Foods Should You Avoid?

One step to take to limit is to identify and avoid food items which have inorganic phosphorus in them. They might not indicate their phosphorus content in their Nutrition Facts, but if you find the following in their Ingredients, it’s best to avoid those food items:

  • dicalcium phosphate
  • disodium phosphate
  • monosodium phosphate
  • phosphoric acid
  • sodium hexametaphosphate
  • sodium tripolyphosphate
  • tetrasodium pyrophosphate
  • trisodium phosphate

Another step to take is to stay away from processed food items, especially processed meats. The preservatives mixed in these foods often contain huge amounts of inorganic phosphorus and sodium. These are foods like:

  • canned salmon and sardines
  • caramel candies
  • chocolate
  • colas
  • deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage
  • packaged rice and pasta meals
  • pizza
  • tortilla / corn chips

Low-Phosphorus Alternatives

Another basic thing you can do to avoid consuming too much phosphorus: food swapping. There are a lot of fresh, low-phosphorus alternatives to replace your usual high-phosphorus favorites. Here are some of them:

Beverages:
  • water
  • tea (herbal)
  • rice milk (unenriched)
  • apple, cranberry, or grape juice
  • lemonade
  • ginger ale or root beer
Dairy Products:
  • rice or almond milk
  • cottage or vegan cheese
  • sherbet
  • popsicles
Protein Sources:
  • chicken or turkey
  • eggs
  • fish (fresh)
  • beef, veal, lamb, or pork (only lean cuts)
Fruits, vegetables, & others:
  • apples
  • berries
  • grapes
  • carrot sticks
  • cucumber
  • rice cakes
  • pretzels, popcorn, and crackers (all unsalted)

Of course, we need to remember that everything is better in moderation, so you also have to learn how to portion your foods and find out how much you should eat for certain food groups. Read about that in this article.


Hopefully in the future, we’ll finally be able to see phosphorus amounts reflected in food labels. It’s high time to acknowledge that this nutrient should also be closely watched, like every other one of its kind.

Sources:
Phosphorus and Your CKD Diet - National Kidney Foundation:
https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/phosphorus
Phosphorus Infographic - National Kidney Foundation:
https://www.kidney.org/news/monthly/PHOS_infographic
Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) - US Food and Drug Administration:
https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/gras/
Inclusion of Phosphorus in the Nutrition Facts Label - Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology:
https://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/14/1/139

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Learn what foods to eat and avoid along with more renal diet tips from your free Renal Cooking E-book here!