What Is Phosphorus?
Phosphorus is a mineral found in most foods. Phosphorus, along with calcium, keeps your bones and teeth strong and helps your nerves and muscles to work properly.
Phosphorus and the Kidneys
When your kidneys work well, they remove extra phosphorus in your blood. When you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), your kidneys have trouble removing phosphorus. High phosphorus levels can damage your body. Extra phosphorus can pull calcium out of your bones. This makes them weak. High phosphorus and calcium levels in the blood also lead to dangerous calcium deposits in your blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. Over time this can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death. Managing the amount of phosphorus and calcium in your body is very important for your overall health. Your phosphorus blood levels should be monitored often by your doctor if you have CKD.
Managing Your Phosphorus Levels
Your doctor may tell you to limit phosphorus in your diet. One way to manage phosphorus levels is through your food choices. This may mean avoiding higher phosphorus foods. There are plenty of lower phosphorus foods you can choose instead. Keep in mind that the amount of phosphorus absorbed from the foods we eat is what matters most. Natural sources of phosphorus are less absorbed, while artificial phosphorus found in food additives is mostly absorbed.
Your doctor may also order a medicine called a phosphate binder for you to take with meals and snacks. This medicine will help control the amount of phosphorus your body absorbs from the foods you eat. It is important to take this medicine as prescribed.
Added Sources of Phosphorus
Avoiding phosphorus additives is the most important thing you can do to lower your intake of phosphorus. Phosphorus from food additives is completely absorbed by the body. Added phosphorus has no benefit, so it’s okay to avoid completely.
Some of the common types of foods that use phosphorus additives are:
- Fast foods
- Ready-to-eat foods (baked goods, prepackaged meals)
- Frozen convenience foods
- Canned and bottled drinks
- Processed meats (prepackaged or breaded meats and fish, deli meats, hot dogs)
- Most processed foods
Natural Sources of Phosphorus
Avoiding added sources of phosphorus can be enough for some people with kidney disease to keep phosphorus in range. Depending on your lab results, your doctor may want you to limit your natural sources of phosphorus as well. Meat, dairy, and other animal proteins contain high amounts of phosphorus. The body absorbs most of this phosphorus. Moderating your intake of meat, dairy, and other animal foods can help bring phosphorus levels back to normal.
Plant proteins like lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains do contain phosphorus, however the body doesn’t absorb much of this phosphorus. An eating pattern that includes these foods may even help slow the progression of kidney disease.
Phosphorus on Food Labels
There is no requirement that phosphorus be listed on nutrition facts panels. You can look at the ingredients list for words that begin with “phos” to find phosphorus additives in the food. Here are some examples of what to look for:
- Dicalcium phosphate
- Disodium phosphate
- Monosodium phosphate
- Phosphoric acid
- Sodium hexametaphosphate
- Trisodium phosphate
- Sodium tripolyphosphate
- Tetrasodium pyrophosphate
Any questions? Message a coach through the Livongo app or schedule a session to help you balance your meals and snacks.