Part of our unfamiliarity with foods high in phosphorus is due to the fact that—luckily—phosphorus deficiency is uncommon. That being said, it's still a vital mineral charged with not-so-little tasks, such as keeping our bones strong and healthy. “Phosphorus is important for boosting bone strength as well as keeping teeth strong, because our bones and teeth are places where phosphorus is stored," says registered dietitian Bianca Tamburello, RDN. This makes it the second most abundant mineral in the body. "Phosphorus is also essential for proper muscle functioning, is a key part of our cells and genes, and is involved in the body's process to convert food into a form of energy we can use.”
- Bianca Tamburello, RDN, registered dietitian and nutrition educator
According to The National Institute of Health (NIH), not getting enough phosphorus can lead to "loss of appetite, anemia, muscle weakness, coordination problems, bone pain, soft and deformed bones, a higher risk of infection, a feeling of burning or prickling in the skin and confusion." Luckily, if you're eating a well-rounded diet, you're probably getting enough phosphorus.
"Phosphorus is in many protein-rich foods and is available as a supplement, usually in the form of phosphate," says Tamburello. “Those at risk of phosphorus deficiency include severely malnourished people, which in some cases could be linked to anorexia or alcoholism, and certain genetic disorders. On the flip side, kidney disease can hinder the regulation of phosphate in the body, causing levels to be too high. Because of this, people with kidney disease may actually be advised to limit high phosphorus foods.”
So how much phosphorus does the average person need?
Most men and women 19 years and older need about 700 mg of phosphorus daily per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “Making sure you're getting about this amount of phosphorus per day isn't too challenging—a cup of diced cooked chicken contains about 304 mg of phosphorus, which is around 40 percent of the average daily goal,” says Tamburello. “Younger people need a bit more phosphorus, for example, 1250 mg per day is recommended for people 14 to 18 years of age.”
Supplementing therefore isn’t typically recommended or advised, as there isn’t a need for most given the abundance of foods high in phosphorus that many of us are already consuming every day.
Below, Tamburello highlights seven of these phosphorus-rich foods that help keep your bones and your pearly whites in tip-top shape.
7 foods high in phosphorus, according to a dietitian
1. Sardines: Three ounces has 417 mg phosphorus
“Sardines are a super source of phosphorus and have many other health benefits. They're packed with calcium, which can be especially helpful for those looking for non-dairy calcium foods. Sardines also have a significant amount of vitamin D, which is another bone-supporting nutrient, and vitamin B12, important for brain, cell, and nerve health,” says Tamburello.
2. Pumpkin Seeds: One ounce has 332 mg phosphorus
“Pumpkin seeds are a powerful food that pack a nutrition punch," says Tamburello. "In addition to providing a significant amount of phosphorus, pumpkin seeds are a source of plant-based protein which is especially important for non-meat eaters and have healthy fats, fiber, and tons of magnesium." She recommends sprinkling pumpkin seeds on salads, roasted veggies, oatmeal, yogurt, smoothie bowls, or using them as a way to add delicious crunch to tacos.
3. Chicken: One cup diced has 304 mg phosphorus
In addition to offering a significant amount of phosphorus, Tamburello says that chicken is (of course) a great source of high quality protein, which is also hugely important for building and maintaining healthy muscles. "Chicken is also low in saturated fat, which is why it's categorized as a lean option,” she says.
4. Turkey: One cup diced has 298 mg phosphorus
“Turkey is another lean protein that's a great source of phosphorus. Dark and light meat are both great options, though lighter meat offers slightly more phosphorus,” Tamburello says.
5. Salmon: Three ounce serving has 214 mg phosphorus
According to Tamburello, salmon is a nutrition powerhouse and contains hard-to-find nutrients including vitamin D and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. "Salmon also has beneficial anti-inflammatory properties and is linked to decreased risk of certain chronic diseases. I recommend looking for salmon that low in mercury and responsibly-raised, like Chilean salmon,” she says.
“Plain Greek yogurt is great for a simple snack—it packs protein, calcium, and phosphorus, which is basically the trifecta of bone-strengthening nutrients," says Tamburello. "If you don't love snacking on yogurt on its own, try swapping it in when making recipes that call for heavy cream or mayonnaise. Cheese, milk, and other dairy products are also great choices to add more phosphorus to your diet.”
7. Eggs: Two eggs has 191 mg phosphorus
“Starting your day with eggs can help you meet almost 30 percent of the average daily phosphorus recommendation. Eggs are also a rich source of protein, and are loaded with nutrients including vitamins A, D, E, and K, biotin, iron, and selenium," Tamburello says. She adds that they also have folate and choline, which are two important nutrients during pregnancy for healthy babies. "And don't skip the yolk: This is where there's the most phosphorus.”
Learn more about the health benefits of eggs, aka "nature's multivitamin," in this video:
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