Phosphorus is a chemical element occurring naturally in rocks and soil, as well as in the bodies of living things. It is a mineral that humans require in the diet, much like iron and calcium, but if consumed in excess, it can present some health risks. Foods low in phosphorus include almond or rice milk, cream or cottage cheese, and refined grains. Since the kidneys remove phosphorus from the body, this is where the excess is deposited. Individuals with impaired or reduced kidney function may want lower their phosphorus intake by avoiding dairy, hard cheeses, whole grains, cola, and processed foods and by substituting low phosphorus foods.
When choosing low phosphorus foods, it is often a matter not of eliminating entire food groups, but of substituting a low phosphorus food in a given group for a high-phosphorus food. Many dairy products like milk, yogurt, ice cream, and hard cheeses, for instance, are high in phosphorus. Acceptable substitutes include non-dairy milk products, cottage cheese, ricotta cheeses, and ice pops or sherbet. Potatoes may be consumed instead of corn, and refined grains may be chosen in place of whole grains, although many nutrition experts favor replacing processed foods before eliminating whole grains from the diet. Finally, low phosphorus substitutes for high phosphorus sweets like chocolate and cola include hard candy and ginger ale or soda water.
A difficult mineral to avoid, phosphorus occurs naturally in most of the foods humans eat and also is used to make many processed foods and beverages. In the body, it is stored largely in bone and the membranes of cells, and it is found in the bloodstream, where it is known as serum phosphate. Since phosphorus is necessary to many metabolic functions, a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) has been established by several countries in order to keep serum phosphate at desirable levels. Adults in the United States, for instance, are told to consume 700 milligrams of phosphorus daily.
In many countries, however — particularly Western countries — adults consume at least twice this amount of phosphorus, often in the form of processed foods and beverages. Corn and often soy are high-phosphorus foods, and these are used to make the sweeteners and preservatives found in nearly all packaged foods, sodas, baked goods, and snacks.
Those suffering from kidney disease whose organs may not be functioning at full capacity may have difficulty removing excess phosphorus, leading to a build-up that can cause bone disease and other impairments. In many cases, even in the absence of kidney disease, it may be advisable to cut back on intake of these particular foods in favor of low phosphorus foods, as an excess of this mineral in the diet can lead to kidney stones and reduced bone mass.