In, “Get the Facts on Phosphorus Additives”, the negative impact on health of too much inorganic phosphorus in the diet was discussed. If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), there are numerous health risks associated with too much phosphorus consumption and prolonged elevated phosphorus levels.
Phosphorus is a mineral you don’t often hear about. You may hear people discussing potassium, sodium, and calcium and a variety of other vitamins and minerals. As more and more research is being done to learn more about phosphorus’ effects on health—for people who have normally functioning kidneys and for those who do not—we will be hearing more and more about this elusive element.
How Much Phosphorus Do You Need?
If you have normally functioning kidneys, the U.S. and Canadian RDA/AI for phosphorus for individuals 18 years old and older is 700mg/day and the UL (Upper Limit) is 4000mg/day. With the abundance of processed foods with added phosphorus available today, it is easy for most people to consume close to the UL level of phosphorus on a daily basis.
If you have CKD, the amount of phosphorus you need to limit in your diet is dependent on your level of kidney function and phosphorus levels in your blood. As kidney function declines, the amount of phosphorus you should consume will also decline. Standard daily phosphorus intake limit for CKD is 800-1000mg/day. Be sure to consult with your nephrologist and registered dietitian who can determine your specific daily limit.
How Do You Know How Much Phosphorus is in Foods?
It is very difficult to determine how much phosphorus is in food by simply reading a food label. Currently, it is not required by law to list specific amounts (in milligrams) of phosphorus (organic or inorganic) a food contains on the Nutrition Facts Label.
This makes it hard to determine if a food is high or low in phosphorus. For now, we have to read ingredient lists on food packaging. This is probably the quickest and easiest way to identify if a food contains phosphorus additives. Any ingredients on the lists that contain the letters, “PHOS”, indicate that phosphorus is in that food.
If you have CKD, are watching your daily phosphorus intake, and find that a food item has phosphorus added, the best thing to do is put that item back on the shelf! There are so many other options at the grocery store—you can find some without added phosphorus.
Helpful Tools to Identify if Phosphorus is in a Food
- Utilize online resources like the USDA Food Composition Database or the Canadian Nutrient File to look up specific foods and their nutritional content.
- Read the ingredient list on food packaging—look for ingredients that have the letters “PHOS” in them.
- Sometimes the packaging a food comes in can give you an indication if phosphorus has been added.
Phosphorus Additives in Beverages
Many people don’t think about phosphorus being added to food, let alone, beverages. Unfortunately, it is often added and hidden in many different types of drinks and can account for much of the added phosphorus you consume every day. Most beverages in clear plastic or lightly colored plastic bottles require phosphorus additives as a preservative. Glass offers better preservation, so beverages in glass bottle may or may not have added phosphorus.
What Beverages Often Contain Phosphorus Additives?
Powdered drink mix brands (Crystal Light, Kool-Aid, Tang, Country Time Lemonade—not all flavors have added phosphorus—read the ingredient list!)
Sports and energy drink brands (Propel, Gatorade, Amp, Monster, Powerade, etc.)
Other soda brands (Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, Fanta, Hires Root Beer, generic brand sodas, etc.)
Tips to Enjoy Phosphorus Free Beverages
- Choose drinks in glass bottles.
- Pick plain water or seltzers. Flavor it up with fresh or frozen fruit, lemon or lime slices, or cucumber slices. Freeze fresh juice in ice cube trays and use as ice cubes.
- Brew your own iced tea and steep with fresh mint leaves—add honey or lemon slices.
- Make lemonade from scratch.
- Choose clear sodas (i.e. Sprite, 7-Up, gingerale, flavored seltzers, Sierra mist, Squirt, Mt. Dew).
- Make homemade coffee beverages. Brew fresh coffee and chill in the refrigerator. Flavor it up with vanilla almond milk or phosphorus free coffee creamers.
General rule of thumb: Read ingredient lists! If you don’t see any ingredients with “phos” in the name, that beverage is likely a good choice. Become more mindful of the phosphorus you are consuming to help reduce your risk of health issues associated with too much phosphorus intake. This will allow you to make more educated food choices to best meet your dietary needs.
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