Phosphorus is an essential nutrient required for proper cell functioning, regulation of calcium, strong bones and teeth, and for making ATP (adenosine triphosphate) a molecule which provides energy to our cells. A deficiency in phosphorus can lead to lowered appetite, anemia, muscle pain, improper bone formation (rickets), numbness, and a weakened immune system. Phosphorus is found in almost every food, and as such, deficiency is rare. Conversely consuming too much phosphorus causes the body to send calcium from the bones to the blood in an attempt to restore balance. This transfer of calcium weakens bones, and can cause calcification of internal organs, increasing risk of heart attack and other vascular diseases.
Some scientific research suggests that phosphorus is more easily absorbed from meat products,4 and you can only absorb half of the phosphorus contained in plant foods. The amount of phosphorus absorbed differs from person to person, and as MyFoodData.com considers nutrients from plant sources to be optimal for health, the plant sources of phosphorus are still listed here and recommended.
Foods high in phosphorus include pumpkin seeds, romano cheese, salmon, scallops, brazil nuts, pork, beef, milk, yogurt, tofu, and other beans. The daily value (%DV) for phosphorus is 1000mg. Below is a list of high phosphorus foods by common serving size, for more, see the extended lists of high phosphorus foods by nutrient density, and phosphorus rich foods.
#1: Seeds (Pumpkin & Squash)
Phosphorus in 100g
Per cup (129g)
Per ounce (28g)
1233mg (123% DV)
1591mg (159% DV)
345mg (35% DV)
Other Seeds High in Phosphorus (%DV per ounce): Sunflower Seeds (32%), Chia Seeds (24%), Sesame Seeds (22%), Watermelon Seeds (21%), and Flaxseeds (18%). Click to see complete nutrition facts.
#2: Cheese (Romano)
Phosphorus in 100g
Per package (142g)
Per ounce (28g)
760mg (76% DV)
1079mg (108% DV)
213mg (21% DV)
Other Types of Cheese High in Phosphorus (%DV per ounce): Parmesan (23%), Goat Cheese (20%), Nonfat Mozzarella (18%), Gruyere and Swiss (17%), Gouda, Edam and Nonfat Cream Cheese (15%). Click to see complete nutrition facts.
Other Beans and Lentils High in Phosphorus (%DV per cup cooked): Adzuki (39%), Yellow Beans (32%), White Beans (30%), Chickpeas and Black Turtle Beans (28%), Pinto and Kidney Beans (25%). Click to see complete nutrition facts.
*While bran and germ (the components of whole grains) are high in phosphorus, they are in a storage form called phytin, which is not absorbed.Ref **Amount of phosphorus may vary greatly between products. Be sure to check nutrition labels for the exact amount of phosphorus from each individual product. For more high phosphorus foods use the nutrient ranking tool.
Alcoholics - Alcohol can draw phosphorus supplies from the bones, lowering overall levels.3
People Taking Salt Substitutes - Salt substitutes which contain potassium may reduce phosphorus levels in the long term.3
Long distance athletes - People who exercise over long distances lose electrolytes via sweat and need to replenish their sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus levels.
Dehydration - People who consume excess alcohol, or suffer diarrhea, or can be otherwise dehydrated need to replenish their sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus levels.
Drugs which may Lower Phosphorus Levels3
Antacids - Antacids with aluminum, calcium, or magnesium, can hamper phosphorus absorption in the digestive system.
Anticonvulsants - Anticonvulsants, such as phenobarbital and carbamazepine or Tegretol, can lower levels of phosphorus in the body, and create enzymes which hamper absorption.
Bile Acid Sequestrants - Bile acid sequestrants used to lower cholesterol can prevent phosphorus being absorbed by the body.
Corticosteroids - Corticosteroids, such as prednisone or methylprednisolone (Medrol), can increase excretion of phosphorus in unrine.
Insulin - Insulin in high doses may lower phosphorus absorption.
ACE Inhibitors (Blood Pressure Medication) - ACE Inhibitors such as Benazepril (Lotensin), Captopril (Capoten), Enalapril (Vasotec), Fosinopril (Monopril), Lisinopril (Zestril, Prinivil), Quinapril (Accupril), and Ramipril (Altace) may lower levels of phosphorus.
Cyclosporine (Immune Suppressant)
Cardiac Glycosides (Digoxin or Lanoxin)
Heparins (Blood-thinning Drugs)
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (ie: Ibuprofen or Advil)
People with kidney failure should regulate their intake of phosphorus foods, and avoid phosphorus foods if their level is high. Normal phosphorus levels range between 3.5 to 5.5 mg/dL. The National Kidney Foundation can provide more guidance on kidney failure and phosphorus foods.
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Data Sources and References
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25.