Phosphorus is an essential mineral involved in hundreds of cellular activities every single day that the skeletal structure and vital organs − the brain, heart, kidneys and liver, for example − all rely on to keep the body functioning properly. What is phosphorus most important for? Besides skeletal and organ health, other key roles include helping to balance hormones naturally and utilize nutrients from the foods that we eat, especially foods high in phorphorus.
Phosphorus is the second most abundant element in the human body; it makes up about 0.5 percent of an infant’s body and about 1 percent of an adult body. (1) We need phosphorus to keep our metabolism running smoothly and help boost energy levels due to its help in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s primary source of “energy.”
It’s the body’s source of phosphate, a type of salt present within the body that’s made up phosphoric acid. It’s also an important compound for synthesizing the major macronutrients from our food – proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Phosphorus is also needed to effectively move and contract muscles. It acts as an electrolyte within the body that helps with cellular activity, heart beat rhythms and balancing the body’s fluid levels.
As a naturally occurring mineral that is found in large quantities in the environment, we acquire it primarily from phosphorus-rich foods but also in small amounts from the water we drink. In the body, about 85 percent of phosphorus is stored in our bones, but it’s also present in muscle tissue and the blood in smaller quantities.
Phosphorus Deficiency & Foods High in Phosphorus
In most cases, a phosphorus deficiency is not very common because phosphorus is abundant in many commonly eaten whole foods, plus it’s also synthetically added to many packaged foods. Phosphorus is one of the various food additives that can be found in many processed foods – like bread, cheese and dressings – so it’s believed that added phosphorus contributes up to 30 percent of the average adult’s intake. (2)
Phosphorus in the form of phosphate is very efficiently absorbed in the small intestine, especially compared to many other minerals – like calcium, iron and magnesium, for example. Between 50 percent and 90 percent of phosphorus that we eat is believed to be effectively absorbed, which reduces the likelihood of someone generally healthy having a phosphorus deficiency.
The more dietary high-protein foods someone eats, usually the better able they are to absorb phosphorus. Consequently, people on a low-protein diet are more at risk for a deficiency than people on a higher-protein diet – especially one that includes a lot of animal protein. (3)
The group most likely to experience phosphorus deficiency are older women. Ten percent to 15 percent of older women have phosphorus intakes of less than 70 percent of the recommended daily allowance. (4) One reason this may be true is because older women are most likely to take high-dose calcium supplements (to address a calcium deficiency) that consist of the carbonate or citrate salts that bind to phosphorus and make it unavailable for absorption.
What is a phosphorus deficiency capable of doing to someone’s health? The most prominent signs of a phosphorus deficiency include:
- Weak bones, broken bones and fractures
- Changes in appetite
- Joint and muscle aches
- Trouble exercising
- Tooth decay
- Numbness and tingling
- Weight loss or gain
- Stunted growth and other development problems
- Trouble concentrating
Recommended Daily Allowance of Phosphorus
According to the USDA, the recommended daily phosphorus intake depends on age and gender and are as follows: (5)
- Infants 0–6 months: 100 milligrams daily
- Infants 7–12 months: 275 milligrams
- Children ages 1–3: 420 milligrams
- Children 4–8: 500 milligrams
- Ages 9–18: 1,250 milligrams
- Adults ages 19–50: 700 milligrams
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women: 700 milligrams
As you can see, teens need the most phosphorus of any group because they are rapidly growing and developing bone mass. This is the same reason why teens also require more calcium and, in many cases, additional calories, too.
There isn’t much of a risk for overdosing on phosphorus and overeating foods high in phosphorus since the kidneys easily control the blood phosphorus level and efficiently excrete any excess amount through urine. However, taking or consuming very high doses of phosphorus might be dangerous because it can impair synthesis of the active metabolite of vitamin D and disrupt calcium absorption. (6)
There’s also risk for high levels of phosphorus to cause heart complications due to an imbalance in essential minerals that regulate blood pressure, circulation and kidney function. One 2009 study published by the Society of Nephrology observed a link between high phosphorus levels and coronary artery calcification (CAC) in 900 healthy adults.
At the start of the study, 28 percent of participants had CAC, but after six years another 33 percent had developed the condition. Small increases in the blood level of phosphorus predicted an increased risk of progressive CAC, and researchers also found that people with high phosphorus had lower kidney function. (7)
Obtaining too much of the mineral from foods highs in phosphorus alone isn’t likely, but if you take supplements that contain phosphorus and also eat a lot of packaged foods that have added phosphorus, you’ll want to consider making some changes in order to monitor your intake.
So what is phosphorus best obtained from? Always try to get your daily intake from foods high in phosphorus, especially high-quality proteins, that help with absorption and mineral/electrolyte balance.
Health Benefits of Phosphorus
1. Helps Maintain Strong Bones
Female Full Skeleton – Anatomy Bones. Anatomy image on colored background. Detailed view.Phosphorus, along with calcium, is one of the most important minerals in the body for maintaining bone structure and strength. In fact, more than half of all bone is made from phosphate. Phosphors helps form bone mineral density that prevents bone fractures, breaks and osteoporosis – which all are more likely as someone ages. (8)
Without enough phosphorus present, calcium cannot effectively build and maintain bone structure. Instead, phosphorus and calcium levels must remain balanced in order to maintain the best bone health. For example, high levels of calcium from supplements can block absorption of phosphorus. More calcium alone will not improve bone density, since both minerals are needed to form bone mass.
2. Detoxes the Body Through Urination and Excretion
The kidneys are bean-shaped organs that serve several essential regulatory roles.They remove excess organic molecules from the blood. Phosphorus is important for kidney function and helps the body detox by eliminating toxins and waste through urine.
In order to balance levels of uric acid, sodium, water and fat within the body, the kidneys and other digestive organs rely on electrolytes like phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Phosphates are closely tied to these other minerals and are usually present in the body as compounds of phosphate ions in combination with other electrolytes.
3. Important for Metabolism and Nutrient Utilization
What is phosphorus beneficial for when it comes to our metabolism and preventing nutrient deficiencies? Phosphorus is needed to properly synthesize, absorb and use vitamins and minerals from food – including B vitamins like riboflavin and niacin. Phosphorus is also very important for synthesizing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in order to help with cellular function, energy production, reproduction and growth.
Additionally, phosphorus supports a healthy metabolism and digestion of carbohydrates and fats by producing digestive enzymes that turn nutrients into useable energy, supporting a healthy metabolism. Phosphorus helps to keep your mind alert and your muscles active by stimulating your glands to secrete hormones that are needed for concentration and energy expenditure.
4. Balances the Body’s pH Level and Improves Digestion
Inside the body, phosphorus partially occurs as phospholipids, which are a major component of most biological membranes like our nucleotides and nucleic acids. The functional roles of phostholipids include balancing the body’s pH level by buffering excess levels of either acid or alkali compounds.
This helps with digestion by allowing healthy bacteria within the gut flora to flourish. It’s also important for the process of phosphorylation, the activation of digestive catalysts enzymes. (9) Because it acts as an electrolyte, phosphorus is also believed to help improve digestion by reducing bloating/water-retention and diarrhea, as well as provide natural constipation relief and contribute to acid-reflux remedies.
5. Needed to Maintain Energy Levels
What is phosphorus capable of doing to our mood, concentration and motivation? Phosphorus helps with the absorption and regulation of B vitamins that are vital to energy production within cells, in the form of ATP. B vitamins are also needed to maintain a positive mood due to their effect on neurotransmitter release in the brain.
Phosphorus also aids in the transmission of nerve impulses that help control muscle movement. A deficiency in phosphorus and lack of foods high in phosphorus can lead to general weakness, muscle aches and soreness, numbness and general or chronic fatigue syndrome.
6. Helps Maintain Dental Health
Similarly to how phosphorus is needed for bone health, it’s also important for maintaining teeth and gum health. Calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus all play a role in the formation and maintenance of dental health by supporting tooth enamel, jaw-bone mineral density and holding the teeth in place, too — thus, these minerals and vitamins can also help heal tooth decay.
Children especially need foods high in phosphorus and calcium-rich foods while they are developing adult teeth in order to form teeth’s hard structure. Vitamin D is needed along with phosphorus to regulate the body’s balance of calcium and improve its absorption during tooth formation. Vitamin D can also help to decrease inflammation of gums that is associated with periodontal gum disease.
7. Needed for Cognitive Function
Proper neurotransmitter and brain functions rely on minerals like phosphorus in order to carry out everyday cellular activities. A key role of phosphorus is helping to maintain proper neurological, emotional and hormonal responses.
A phosphorus deficiency has been linked with cognitive decline and the development of age-related neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
8. Important for Growth and Development
Because phosphorus is vital for nutrient absorption and building bones, a deficiency in phosphorus during toddler and adolescent years can stunt growth and contribute to other developmental problems. During pregnancy, phosphorus plays a role in the production of the genetic building blocks, DNA and RNA. (10)
Indeed, foods high in phosphorus are key in a pregnancy diet because the mineral is needed for the growth, maintenance and repair of all tissues and cells starting from infancy. Phosphorus is also important for proper brain function, including the ability to concentrate, learn, problem-solve and remember information.
Best Food Sources of Phosphorus
Aside from naturally occurring in certain foods high in phosphorus, it’s also added to food products in order to improve appearance, shelf life and the flavor of foods. For example, phosphates are included in baking powder and processed food products like meat-marinating ingredients, ice cream, bread and rolls, processed cheeses, carbonated beverages and many more. (11)
This kind of phosphorus is considered safe by the FDA as a food additive, but isn’t how you want to obtain the phosphorus your body needs. Instead, try to get foods high in phosphorus – a.k.a., whole food sources that come in a “complete package,” naturally containing other minerals that are important for balancing phosphorus levels.
Here are 12 of the best food sources of phosphorus:
- Sunflower seeds (12) — ¼ cup: 369 milligrams
- Raw milk (13) — 1 cup: 212 milligrams
- White Beans (14) — 1 cup cooked: 202 milligrams
- Mung Beans (15) — 1 cup cooked: 200 milligrams
- Tuna (16) — 3 ounce can: 184 milligrams
- Turkey Breast (17) — 3 ounces: 182 milligrams
- Grass-Fed Beef (18) — 3 ounces: 173 milligrams
- Almonds (19) — ¼ cup: 162 milligrams
- Brown Rice (20) — 1 cup cooked: 150 milligrams
- Potatoes (21) — 1 medium: 121 milligrams
- Broccoli (22) — 1 cup cooked: 104 milligrams
- Eggs (23) — 1 large: 98 milligrams
Recipes with Phosphorus
Total Time: 15 minutes
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 1 large zucchini, sliced
- 2 red peppers, cut into strips
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
- Season ground turkey with sea salt and pepper then form into patties.
- Heat coconut oil in pan over medium heat.
- Fry turkey burgers.
- Saute zucchini, red peppers and green onions.
- Place turkey burgers on a bed of the sauteed veggies.
Total Time: 5 minutes
- 1 15-ounce can of white beans (rinsed, save the liquid)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoon coconut aminos
- 2 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/4 cup of liquid from beans (add water if needed)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- In blender, combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth.
- Serve with Mary’s Gone Crackers or fresh cut veggies.
Total Time: 8–10 hours
- 1-2 pounds beef chuck
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 onions, peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 6 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
- 6 cups beef bone broth
- Carrots, chopped
- Rutabaga, peeled and chopped
- Celery, chopped
- 2–4 tablespoons coconut aminos
- Add all ingredients to crockpot and cook on low for 8–10 hours.
Phosphorus Supplements and Interactions
Phosphorus interacts with other minerals and certain medications too, so you shouldn’t use high doses of supplements containing phosphorus without first talking with your health care provider. Most people don’t need to take phosphorus supplements considering the average person gets plenty from their diet. Although it’s rare, too much phosphate can be toxic and can cause symptoms like:
- Hardening of organs and soft tissue
- Interfering with the balance of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, which can have many negative impacts
- Athletes and others taking supplements that contain phosphate should only do so occasionally and with the guidance and direction of a health care provider
You want to maintain a proper balance of calcium-rich foods and foods high in phosphorus. However, unfortunately it’s believed that the SAD (Standard American Diet) contains 2–4 times the amount of phosphorus than calcium. This is caused by an overconsumption of foods high in phosphorus like heavy meat and poultry – which contains a lot more phosphorus than calcium – plus drinking carbonated beverages. An imbalance runs the risk of causing bone-related problems like osteoporosis, plus gum and teeth problems.
Some other interactions of high levels of phosphorus include: (24)
- Limiting vitamin D absorbability
- Stressing the kidneys
- Interacting with alcohol, which can leach phosphorus from the bones and cause low levels in the body
- Interacting with antacids that contain aluminum, calcium or magnesium that can cause the gut to not properly absorb minerals
- Interacting with ACE inhibitors (blood pressure medications)
- Bile acid sequestrates can also decrease the oral absorption of phosphates from the diet, as can some corticosteroids and high doses of insulin
Read Next: Absorb More Nutrients with Digestive Enzymes
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