Like calcium and sodium, phosphorus is a mineral that is necessary to cellular function, as well as bone health, that must be obtained through the diet. Consuming phosphorus-rich foods ensures that the body’s needs for this element are met. An excess of phosphorus, however, is thought to lead to kidney stones and be damaging to bone health. Therefore, avoiding foods and beverages with excessive phosphorus levels such as soda and packaged foods in favor of healthy sources of phosphorus can help to maintain the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 700 milligrams (mg) in adults. Recommended sources of phosphorus include low-fat dairy like milk, cheese, and yogurt; meats like beef, poultry, and fish as well as chicken eggs; wheat bran and whole-wheat bread; legumes like peanuts and lentils; and seeds like sesame and almonds.
Represented on the periodic table of the elements by the symbol P, phosphorus is a major element found in the body, largely in the skeletal system. Like other nutrients, it is also contained in measurable levels in the bloodstream as serum phosphate, with the RDA established as the amount humans must consume to maintain optimum serum phosphate levels. Phosphorus also contributes to the structure of cell membranes, and it forms several compounds such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that transfer, store, or release cellular energy.
At the same time, overconsumption of phosphorus can potentially lead to health issues. The average intake by adults in the United States was found to be as high as 1,495 mg in men and 1,024 mg in women, which is likely due to the consumption of soda and packaged foods that contain undisclosed levels of phosphates. Since any excess phosphorus is sent to the kidneys to be excreted in urine, too much phosphorus in the body will form deposits in the kidneys, often resulting in kidney stones. In addition, a link between elevated serum phosphate levels in the blood, which decreases the amount of vitamin D available for utilization in the body as well as blood calcium, is said to be damaging to bone mineral content. As such, those who are susceptible to osteoporosis, kidney stones, or other kidney disease may be advised to avoid cola and processed foods in order to lower serum phosphate levels.
By contrast, there are plenty of whole foods that can be considered healthy sources of phosphorus. Since humans aren’t the only animal whose bodies contain phosphorus, this element may be obtained by consuming animal foods like dairy, meat, and eggs, with yogurt supplying 385 mg per 8-ounce portion. Cold-water fish like halibut and salmon are other rich animal sources of phosphorus, providing around 250 mg per 3-ounce portion.
Vegetarian sources of phosphorus are also plentiful, with whole wheat — wheat with the bran and germ intact — supplying 57 mg in a single slice of bread. Almonds, lentils, and peanuts also contain phosphorus, providing 134, 178, and 107 mg, respectively. It should be noted, however, that the kind of phosphorus found in plant foods is less bioavailable than phosphorus from animals, meaning that the body cannot make use of as much of it.