A low-phosphorus diet limits the amount of phosphorus in your diet.
You may have to follow a low-phosphorus diet with advanced chronic kidney disease to prevent your phosphate levels from becoming too high.
This article provides a list of foods to eat and limit on a low-phosphorus diet and includes a sample low-phosphorus diet menu.
What is a low-phosphorus diet?
Phosphorus is an essential mineral that plays an important role in energy production, bone health, and acid-base balance (1).
Many foods contain phosphorus, mainly in the form of phosphate.
Your kidneys regulate phosphate levels but if they are not working properly, phosphate can build up, leading to high levels in your body.
Indeed, the most common cause of high phosphate levels — also known as hyperphosphatemia — is advanced chronic kidney disease.
Although most people experience no symptoms, high phosphate levels can weaken your bones and cause calcification, which is the harmful buildup of calcium in your blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart (2).
A low-phosphorus diet generally restricts phosphorus to 800–1,000 mg per day, but your physician or dietitian will determine your specific level of restriction based on your blood phosphate levels, kidney function, and overall health (3, 4).
The source of phosphorus is also important to consider on a low-phosphorus diet since some sources are absorbed better than others.
Although the terms phosphorus and phosphate are often used interchangeably, it’s the amount of phosphate in your blood that’s measured.
Almost all phosphorus combines with oxygen to form phosphate in the body.
A normal blood phosphate level is 2.5–4.5 milligrams per deciliter or 0.81–1.45 millimoles per liter (1).
Low-phosphorus diet foods to eat and limit
Knowing which foods are good or poor sources of phosphorus can help guide your food choices.
Watching your portions is also important since eating a large amount of a low-phosphorus food can turn into a high-phosphorus food.
Here are foods to eat and limit on a low-phosphorus diet:
Foods to eat
Certain plant foods like beans, peas, nuts, and grains contain a good amount of phosphorus, but the phosphorus from these foods is poorly absorbed since it occurs primarily in the form of phytic acid.
In fact, your body can only absorb about 50% of phosphorus as phytic acid since humans lack the enzyme needed to separate phosphorus from phytic acid (5).
Therefore, it’s generally OK to include plant foods in your diet, even if they’re high in phosphorus.
Here are some plant foods to eat:
- Fruits: apples, avocados, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, oranges, pears, watermelons, etc.
- Vegetables: arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc.
- Grains: amaranth, barley, bulger, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, and wheat
- Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, peas, pinto beans, and soybeans
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts
- Oils: canola and extra-virgin olive oil
- Beverages: coffee and tea
Foods to limit
Animal-based protein sources tend to be the best sources of phosphorus.
The phosphorus found in animal foods is also absorbed more easily than the phosphorus found in plant foods.
Examples of animal-based protein sources to limit include:
- Dairy: cheese, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, and dairy desserts like ice-cream
- Poultry: chicken, duck, whole eggs (but not egg whites), pheasant, quail, and turkey
- Meats: beef, bison, buffalo, lamb, pork, venison
- Seafood: fish, shellfish, and roe
Still, outside of a food allergy, intolerance, or preference, you shouldn’t completely avoid these foods since they’re an excellent source of quality protein and other beneficial nutrients.
A more effective and healthful alternative would be to limit or avoid foods that have phosphorus added to them during the manufacturing process (6).
Unlike foods that naturally contain phosphorus, your body can absorb 80–100% of the phosphorus added to foods (7).
Food manufacturers use phosphorus additives to enhance color and flavor, extend shelf life, and retain moisture.
Most packaged rice and pasta meals, fast food, frozen meals, and other processed foods contain a phosphorus additive.
You can identify products that contain a phosphorus additive by looking at the ingredients on the nutrition facts label.
Commonly used phosphorus additives include:
- dicalcium phosphate
- disodium phosphate
- phosphoric acid
- monosodium phosphate
- todium hexameta-phosphate
- sodium tripolyphosphate
- tetrasodium pyrophosphate
- trisodium phosphate
The ingredients used in the greatest amount are listed first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.
Sample low-phosphorus diet menu
Here is a one-day sample low-phosphorus diet that contains around 1,000 mg of phosphorus:
- Breakfast: 1/2 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of blueberries, and 1 whole egg with 2 egg whites
- Snack: 1 scoop of Optimum Nutrition whey protein powder mixed with water and 1 banana
- Lunch: a hamburger with one cup of pasta salad
- Snack: 1/4 cup of hummus with a mix of raw vegetables like carrots, celery, bell pepper slices, and sugar snap peas for dipping
- Dinner: 3 ounces of salmon, 1/2 cup of rice, and 1 cup of broccoli
Remember that it’s still OK to eat animal-based protein sources like eggs, beef, and salmon as long as your diet consists primarily of unprocessed, whole plant-based foods.
Depending on your phosphate levels, your doctor may prescribe a phosphate binder.
Phosphate binders contain compounds like magnesium, iron, and calcium, which — when taken with meals and snacks — bind with phosphate to form an insoluble compound that your body can’t absorb (8).
As such, phosphate binders help lower high phosphate levels and help you maintain normal phosphate levels.
Taking phosphate binders can also allow you to have more flexibility and variety in your diet.
Depending on the type of phosphate binder, side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation (9).
How to lower phosphate levels in blood naturally
Limiting phosphorus — especially phosphorus additives — in your diet is the best way to naturally lower your phosphate levels.
But boiling your foods can also help.
Boiling causes minerals like phosphorus as well as sodium, potassium, and calcium to leak out of the food into the water.
One study reported a phosphorus reduction of 51% for vegetables, 48% for legumes, and 38% for meats after boiling (10).
The loss of phosphorus and other minerals from food increases with boiling time, smaller food pieces, and the use of more water.
The bottom line
A low-phosphorus diet generally restricts phosphorus to 800–1,000 mg per day, but your level of restriction may differ based on various factors.
In addition to your level of phosphorus restriction, you should also consider the source of phosphorus.
Phosphorus additives are completely absorbed by your body, whereas natural sources are only partially absorbed, with phosphorus from plant sources having the lowest absorption rate.
Taking phosphate binders as prescribed by your doctor and boiling your foods can also help lower high phosphate levels.