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Phosphorus in Your Diet

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 functions, such as filtering waste and repairing tissue and cells.

Most people get the amount of phosphorus that they need through their daily diets. In fact, it’s more common to have too much phosphorus in your body than too little. Kidney disease or eating too much phosphorus and not enough calcium can lead to an excess of phosphorous.

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 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 tissue 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
  • reduce muscle pain after exercise

What Foods Contain Phosphorus?

Most foods contain phosphorus. Foods that are rich in protein are also excellent sources of phosphorus. These include:

  • meat and poultry
  • fish
  • milk and other dairy products
  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans

When your diet contains enough calcium and protein, you’ll likely have enough phosphorus. That’s because many of the foods that are high in calcium are also high in phosphorous.

Some non-protein food sources also contain phosphorus. For example:

  • whole grains
  • potatoes
  • garlic
  • dried fruit
  • carbonated drinks (phosphoric acid is used to produce the carbonation)

Whole grain versions of bread and cereal contain more phosphorus than those made from white flour. However, humans can’t absorb phosphorus in whole grain foods.

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 under 8 years old.

The Linus Pauling Institute recommends the following daily 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

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

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

High levels of phosphorus can affect your body’s ability to effectively use other minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. It can combine with calcium causing mineral deposits to form in your muscles.

It’s rare to have too much phosphorus in your blood. Typically, only people with kidney problems or those who have problems regulating their calcium develop this problem.

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 these medications, talk to your doctor about whether you should eat foods high in phosphorus or take phosphorous supplements.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Robin Madell
Medically reviewed on: Dec 14, 2015: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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