When it comes to practicing balanced daily nutritional intake, phosphorus may not be the nutrient that springs immediately to mind. But it’s an essential mineral credited with healthy smiles, bone strength, and the energy needed to get through each day. Read on to learn more about this important mineral and the foods high in phosphorus.
What Is Phosphorus?
The second most abundant mineral in the body (after calcium), phosphorus accounts for 1 percent of your total weight. Most of this is found in the bones and teeth it helps form.
There are two types of dietary phosphorus: organic phosphorus, which occurs naturally in food, and inorganic phosphorus, found mostly as a food additive.
“[The latter] is the kind of phosphorus we want to avoid,” says Brittany Bersano, RD, a dietitian in Chicago. These additives are found in foods and beverages like processed meats, colas, and fast food, which, in addition to causing excess calorie intake and weight gain, contain higher amounts of phosphorus in a form that’s more readily absorbed. That can lead to excess consumption of phosphorus, which may be associated with a number of health risks (see below).
“Phosphorus is one of the most important minerals in our bodies,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap. “It plays a crucial role in the health and strength of our bones and teeth, while also helping us to create energy and new cells.”
1. Bone and teeth health
“While people often credit calcium alone, phosphorus plays a crucial role in building bones and teeth,” notes Bersano. “It works in conjunction with calcium to increase bone strength.”
2. Cellular function
“Phosphorus is a part of every one of our cell membranes, be it a muscle cell, a nerve cell, a skin cell — you name it,” Blatner says. “It’s essential in the repair and maintenance of these cells and tissues.”
3. Energy production
Phosphorus is a base component in the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which the body uses as energy to power you through everything from sleep to high-intensity exercise.
Here are a few other ways phosphorus is constantly at work within our bodies:
- Helps with healthy kidney functioning
- Assists with normal muscle contractions
- Works in maintaining a healthy heartbeat
- Aids in normal functioning of nerve signaling
How Much Phosphorus Should I Get Daily?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily intake of a nutrient necessary to meet the requirements of most healthy people.
For phosphorus, the RDA for adults is 700 mg.
Are there side effects from getting too much phosphorus?
Average phosphorus intake in the U.S. is well above the recommended dietary allowance. “Because American diets can sometimes rely heavily on processed foods, we may be getting more phosphorus than we know,” notes Bersano.
Studies have found adverse effects of excess phosphorus on bone, cardiovascular, and kidney health. However, more research is needed to determine whether those in the general population need to worry about getting too much.
Individuals who have to be particularly mindful of their phosphorus levels are those with chronic kidney disease, notes Blatner. Though normally functioning kidneys are able to remove excess phosphorus in the bloodstream, those with kidney disease have difficulty doing so, and need to be cautious about the amount of phosphorus they consume. If you have concerns about your own phosphorus intake or kidney function, it’s best to consult a physician.
What happens if I have a phosphorus deficiency?
While we do need to be cognizant of getting adequate amounts of all vitamins and minerals, we can rest assured that we are, in general, satisfying our daily phosphorus needs.
“Phosphorus deficiency [known as hypophosphatemia] is not common in the United States because most people are consuming the daily required amounts,” says Blatner. Credit that to the body’s ability to adjust to lapses in intake, and the ample amounts of meat and dairy found in the American diet… and perhaps the other, less encouraged sources of the mineral, i.e., the aforementioned inorganic phosphorus additives.
Top Food Sources of Phosphorus
While there are a number of plant sources listed below, plant phosphorus can be harder for the body to absorb than that from meat and dairy. Because of this, Blatner suggests vegetarians opt for sprouted versions of these foods, which allow for easier absorption of phosphorus.
The following foods are “excellent” sources (140 mg or more) of phosphorus per serving:
Phosphorus: varies | Serving size: 1 oz.
You’ll want to take it easy on the quantities you consume of these calorie-dense nutrient bombs, but, from a phosphorus perspective it won’t take much: pumpkin (333 mg), sunflower (327 mg), chia (244 mg), sesame (219 mg), hemp (330 mg – 2 Tbsp.).
Phosphorus: varies | Serving size: 3 oz., cooked
Loaded with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins, fish like salmon (218 mg), halibut (244 mg), and tuna (277 mg) make a nutritious and nourishing main dish any day of the week. And a can of sardines weighs in at a whopping 451 mg of phosphorus (just don’t forget to drain it).
Phosphorus: 232 mg | Serving size: 1 cup
Milk is a surefire way to get an excellent source of calcium, a crucial player alongside phosphorus in bone and teeth health.
Phosphorus: 209 mg | Serving size: 3 oz., cooked
In addition to its phosphorus benefits, chicken is chock-full of lean protein and niacin, and is a good source of vitamin B6.
Phosphorus: 193 mg | Serving size: 3 oz., cooked
Phosphorus: 141 mg | Serving size: 1 cup, cooked
The following foods are “good” sources (70 mg or more) of phosphorus per serving:
Phosphorus: 138 mg | Serving size: ½ cup, cooked
A good source of protein, chickpeas fall just shy of qualifying as an “excellent” source of phosphorus. Plus they’re also packed with zinc, fiber, and garbanzo!
Phosphorus: 131 mg | Serving size: ½ cup, cooked
The preferred foreplay of sushi enthusiasts isn’t just a good source of phosphorus, it’s the only complete plant-based protein.
Phosphorus: 128 mg | Serving size: ½ cup, cooked
Perfect in salads and soups, lentils are relatively low in calories and a good source of iron and protein.
Phosphorus: varies | Serving size: ½ cup, cooked
Phosphorus: 126 mg | Serving size: 1 cup
Low in saturated fat and a solid source of protein, soy milk is a good dairy alternative.
Phosphorus: 99 mg | Serving size: 1 large egg
Whole eggs are also a good source of protein and riboflavin, which helps convert carbohydrates into ATP, the form of energy used by the body.
Phosphorus: 79 mg | Serving size: 1 medium ear, cooked
Brimming with vision-bolstering lutein and zeaxanthin, corn is a crowd-pleasing addition to salads and soups, and the ultimate summer accompaniment.