Phosphorous in Your Diet

Written by Robin Madell | Published on June 1, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Phosphorus and Why Is It Important?

Phosphorus is the second most plentiful mineral in your body (the first is calcium). Your body needs phosphorus for many tasks, such as filtering waste and repairing your tissues and cells.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, most people get the amount of phosphorus that they need through their daily diets (UMMC, 2011). In fact, it is more common to have too much phosphorus in your body than too little. Too much phosphorous can be caused by kidney disease or if you eat too much phosphorus in your diet and not enough calcium.

However, certain health conditions, such as diabetes and alcoholism, or medications, such as some antacids, can cause phosphorus levels in your body to drop too low.

Phosphorus levels that are too high or too low can cause medical complications, such as heart disease, joint pain, or fatigue.

What Is Phosphorus?

Phosphorus is a mineral that is present in every cell of your body. It is also in your bones and tissues. According to the National Institutes of Health, phosphorus makes up about one percent of your body weight (NIH, 2011). About 85 percent of this phosphorus is in your bones and teeth.

What Does Phosphorus Do?

You need phosphorus to keep your bones strong and healthy, to help make energy and to move your muscles.

In addition, phosphorus helps to:

  • build strong bones and teeth
  • filter out waste in your kidneys
  • manage how your body stores and uses energy
  • grow, maintain, and repair tissues and cells
  • produce DNA and RNA—the body’s genetic building blocks
  • balance and use vitamins such as vitamins B and D, as well as other minerals like iodine, magnesium, and zinc
  • assist in muscle contraction
  • maintain a regular heartbeat
  • facilitate nerve conduction

What Foods Contain Phosphorus?

There are many foods that contain phosphorus. In fact, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, you can find phosphorus in most foods (Linus Pauling Institute, 2007).

Foods that are rich in protein are excellent sources of phosphorus. These include meat, poultry, and fish, as well as milk and other dairy products. Eggs, nuts, beans, and seeds are also protein sources.

The National Institutes of Health states that when your diet contains enough calcium and protein, it is likely that you will also have enough phosphorus (NIH, 2011). This is because many of the foods that are high in calcium are also high in phosphorous.

Some non-protein food sources also contain phosphorus. These include whole grains, potatoes, garlic, and dried fruit. Carbonated drinks are another source, since phosphoric acid is used to produce the carbonation.

Whole-grain versions of breads and cereals contain more phosphorus than those made from white flour. However, phosphorus in whole-grain foods is stored in a way that cannot be absorbed by humans.

Dietary Recommendations: How Much Phosphorus Do You Need?

The amount of phosphorus you need in your diet depends on your age.

Adults need less phosphorus than children between the ages of 9 to 18, but more than children who are under 8 years of age.

The Linus Pauling Institute makes the following recommendations for daily phosphorus intake:

  • adults (19 years and older): 700 mg
  • children (9 to 18 years): 1,250 mg
  • children (4 to 8 years): 500 mg
  • children (1 to 3 years): 460 mg
  • infants (7 to 12 months): 275 mg
  • infants (0 to 6 months): 100 mg (Linus Pauling Institute, 2007)

Few people need to take phosphorus supplements. Most people can get the necessary amount of phosphorus through the foods they eat.

Risks Associated With Too Much Phosphorus

According to the NIH, it’s rare to have too much phosphorus in your blood (NIH, 2011). Typically, this problem only develops in people with kidney disease or those who have problems regulating their calcium.

However, too much phosphate can be toxic. An excess of the mineral can cause diarrhea, as well as a hardening of organs and soft tissue.

Having too much phosphorus in your blood can also cause it to combine with calcium, forming mineral deposits in your muscles.

High levels of phosphorus can also affect your body’s ability to effectively use other minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Risks Associated With Too Little Phosphorus

Some medications can lower your body’s phosphorus levels. Examples include:

  • insulin
  • ACE inhibitors
  • corticosteroids
  • antacids
  • anticonvulsants

Symptoms of low phosphorus can include:

  • joint or bone pain
  • loss of appetite
  • irritability or anxiety
  • fatigue
  • poor bone development in children

If you take medications, be sure to talk to your doctor about whether you should eat foods that are high in phosphorus or take phosphorous supplements.

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