Low Phosphorus Diet

Learn the ins and outs of following a low phosphorus diet. Sometimes people diagnosed with chronic kidney disease will have to limit their phosphorus intake and will need to follow a low phosphorus diet.

1: Introduction

Phosphorus is a mineral that is found in your bones. According to kidney.org, a normal phosphorus level is between 2.5 and 4.5 mg/dL. Make sure to ask your doctor or dietitian what your last phosphorus level was and keep track of it. Your kidneys are responsible for removing extra phosphorus in your blood. People with CKD or other kidney complications may have trouble removing phosphorus, which can lead to high levels of phosphorus in your body.

Having high phosphorus levels can be dangerous to your body, and contribute to pulling calcium out of your bones, making them weak. High phosphorus and calcium levels can lead to dangerous calcium deposits in blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. Controlling phosphorus and calcium in your diet is very important for your overall health.

2: Phosphorus Additives Found in Food

Because the body absorbs 100% of added phosphorus, it is very important to read the label on food items that come in a box, bag, or jar. This is also why it is always important to take your phosphate binders (medicines used to reduce the absorption of phosphates) if prescribed by your doctor, every time you eat. Phosphorus is difficult to find when looking on the food label. Go to the ingredient list to find added phosphorus and keep a list of the brands without added phosphorus to make shopping easier the next time.

Phosphorus is added to many foods to help keep the food fresher. Our bodies absorb 100% of that added. Phosphorus additives can be found in bagged, boxed, canned, or bottled foods. When you have kidney disease, you should avoid or limit foods with these additives. Look on the ingredient list to know if the item has added phosphorus.

  • Like in any diet, fresh foods are the best.
  • Beware of phosphorus added to packaged foods, microwaved foods, frozen dinners, spreadable cheeses, and certain snacks.
  • Always check food labels for “PHOS” to find hidden phosphorus
  • Instead of chicken nuggets → fresh chicken breast
  • Instead of cola → ginger ale

A quick way to spot added phosphorus is to look for phosphates or “phos” in the ingredient list.

Hidden Phosphorus Terminology

Dicalcium phosphate Hexametaphosphate
Disodium phosphate Dicalcium phosphate
Monosodium phosphate Ferric phosphate
Phosphoric acid Sodium phosphate
Sodium hexameta-phosphate Monocalcium phosphate
Trisodium phosphate Aluminum phosphate
Tetrasodium pyrophosphate Sodium polyphosphate
Tetrasodium phosphate Sodium tripolyphosphate
Phosphoric acid Pyrophosphate polyphosphate
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3: Foods High in Phosphorus

  • beer/ale
  • chocolate drinks
  • cocoa
  • dark colas
  • drinks made with milk
  • canned iced teas
  • pepper type soda (Dr Pepper)
  • bottled beverages with phosphate additives
Dairy Products
  • cheese
  • liquid nondairy creamer
  • custard
  • ice cream
  • milk
  • pudding
  • cream soups
  • yogurt (Greek type acceptable)
  • oysters
  • sardines
  • beef liver
  • chicken liver
  • fish roe
  • organ meats
  • chocolate candy
  • caramels
  • oat bran muffin
  • most processed/prepared foods
  • pizza
  • brewer’s yeast

4: Dealing With Dairy

If you’re on a whole-foods, plant based diet like me, then you can most likely skip this section.

  • Milk and dairy products are high in phosphorus.
  • Try dairy substitutes like rice milk that are lower in phosphorus
  • Instead of milk → unfortified rice milk
  • Instead of ice cream → sorbet

5: Snacking on a Low Phosphorus Diet

  • Snacking is ok if you make the right choices and use moderation
  • Snacks are also a good way to increase calories
  • Instead of nuts or mixes with nuts > unsalted popcorn or pretzels
  • Instead of chocolate cookies > vanilla wafers

6: Getting Protein From Vegetables

  • Phosphorus found in animal foods is absorbed more easily than phosphorus found in plant foods.
  • Make sure to ask your dietitian how to use vegetable protein in your diet
  • Try new recipes with things like stir-fried tofu, pasta, rice or beans.

7: Dining Out on a Low Phosphorus Diet

  • Just stay away from fast foods. They are loaded with phosphorus
  • Always choose restaurants that make food from scratch with whole foods and fresh ingredients.
  • Always eat with moderation. If the portion size is too large, eat half and bring the rest home.
  • Instead of cheese burger > hamburger with lettuce and onion
  • Instead of cheese enchilada > beef or chicken taco with lettuce and onion

8: Cheating on a Low Phosphorus Diet

  • If your blood  phosphorus level is in a good range, ask your dietitian if it’s ok to have foods that are high in phosphorus by having small portions.
  • Instead of 1 cup of ice-cream > 1/2 cup if ice-cream
  • Instead of 2 slices of pizza > 1 slice of pizza


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