Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral found in your body behind calcium. Phosphorus functions much like the conductor in an orchestra because it causes minerals and vitamins to work together harmoniously. It is a mineral that keeps our bones and teeth healthy, as well as our muscles, nerves and organs.

Our teeth and bones need phosphorus in order to get the calcium they need to grow and stay strong. Phosphorus helps balance out calcium levels in our body and plays an important role in keeping your metabolism running smoothly. Our bodies use phosphorus to help absorb calcium from food and helps us use Vitamin B.

Most importantly, it’s one of the components of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary source of energy in our cells.

Also, phosphorus is a component of cell membranes. Our cells have a barrier of molecules called the phospholipid bilayer. This double membrane of lipid molecules, which are very similar to the fat molecules we get from eating, protects the cell from the outside world. Only a few different compounds can pass through this wall without resistance.

In nature, phosphorus doesn’t exist as an element but rather as an ion, meaning, it’s usually attached to something else. Some of the phosphorus in our bodies exists as a molecule called phosphate (PO4-3).



Phosphate is an ion that is a vital part of the structure of our cells. All of our cells need phosphorus in order to even function. DNA is made up of a sugar-phosphate backbone. Ribose is the sugar group and phosphates bind them together. Without phosphate ions, you can have no DNA (or RNA).

Phosphates are also present in fat molecules. Besides being part of the phospholipid bilayer in our cells, it’s also present in the fats that make up our brain. Phosphorus helps make up some of these fats, that cushions brain cells. As part of the brain’s functioning, phosphates are sometimes refered to as “the light bearer”. It essentially helps our brain to learn, think, imagine, create, envision, reason, read…etc. As we think and function, our brains use up phosphates so replacing them through eating foods containing phosphorus is crucial. Phosphates can come n different forms. The forms of phosphate we obtain through our diet is crucial for our brains and body.


Organic vs Non-organic Phosphorus




We can get phosphorus from animal and vegetable proteins. The forms of phosphorus found in these proteins are different, but important. Organic phosphorus comes primarily from meat, fish and dairy foods. The form of phosphorus in dairy products, like milk, is calcium phosphate. This is the same form used by our bodies to make bones and teeth. Calcium phosphate is actually a family of molecules made from calcium and phosphate. A form of calcium phosphate called hydroxyapatite is the form found in our bones and teeth. Other forms of calcium phosphate are used as additives in food products to keep them from caking together.

Another form of phosphate found in our tissues and muscles is creatine phosphate, which storage place for phosphate molecules to be used later by the body to make ATP. This is why eating foods high in creatine, like red meats, may be useful for high energy activities.

Phosphorus is also found in foods that are not meat or dairy foods. Vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes also have forms of phosphorus that are useful for our bodies. The form of phosphorus found in these foods is phytic acid or phytate. This form isn’t absorbed as well as animal sources of phosphorus.



Inorganic forms of phosphate are used in a wide range of food products to help preserve them. The problem with these forms of phosphorus is that our bodies tend to absorb these forms better than the organic forms of phosphorus that our bodies use. Many of these inorganic forms can be found as additives in salt, sugar, powders, sodas and sometimes cheese.


Phosphorus Deficiency

Phosphorus deficiency can result in anxiety and anxiety related issues. You may also have symptoms like feeling lethargic, stunted growth, or weight loss. To help fix the deficiency, eat foods that are high in phosphorus. Aim for meat as well as vegetables, fruits and legumes in order to get enough of the various forms of organic phosphates.


Excess Phosphorus

Too much phosphorus can be very problematic depending on how elevated your phosphorus levels are. Too much phosphorus can result in electrolyte imbalances. It may also worsen any heart conditions you may have, increase blood pressure, and may end up causing kidney disease. Too much phosphorus will throw other minerals out of balance, especially calcium. Excess phosphorus will cause your calcium levels to drop. Your body responds by taking calcium away from your bones and teeth, leading to conditions like osteomalacia, a softening of the bones, or osteoporosis.


How Much Phosphorus?


Adequate Intakes (AI) for Phosphorus
Age Male Female  Pregnant Lactating  Upper Limit Upper Limits, Pregnant or Lactating
 0 – 6 Months  100 mg  100 mg
 7 – 12 Months  275 mg  275 mg
 1 – 3 Years  460 mg  460 mg  3,000 mg
 4 – 8 Years  500 mg  500 mg  3,000 mg
 9 – 13 Years  1,250 mg  1,250 mg   700 mg  700 mg  4,000 mg
 14 – 18 Years  1,250 mg  1,250 mg   700 mg  700 mg  4,000 mg 3.5 grams preg. 4 grams lact.
 19 – 70 Years  700 mg  700 mg   700 mg  700 mg  4,000 mg 3.5 grams preg. 4 grams lact.
 70+ Years  700 mg  700 mg  3,000 mg

Institute of Medicine


Foods High in Phosphorus

Generally, eating more foods that are high in protein will increase the amount of phosphorus in your diet. If your phosphorus levels are low go for high protein foods like meats, fish and dairy. You can also find it in seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and egg yolks. Alcohol tends to lower your phosphorus levels.

If your phosphorus levels are too high, lower the amount of protein you eat daily. This will help reduce the amount of phosphorus you will get through your diet. You should see a licensed nutritionist or dietitian to work on a more detailed plan to get your phosphorus levels back in balance.


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Pumpkin Seeds (pepitas)

A very good source of phosphorus, these seeds have just over 320 mg of phosphorus per ounce (28 grams). This is about 1/3rd of the recommended intake for an adult.



Sunflower Seeds

These seeds contain just over 320 mg of phosphorus per ounce.


JulieFaith / flickr

American cheese, Cheddar and Swiss cheeses all contain around 230 mg of phosphorus per ounce, which is a little more than 1 slice. Depending on the manufacturer, some cheeses may contain some inorganic phosphates to keep them from caking together.


AlyssssylA / Flickr

Liver is another great source of phosphorus. One ounce of liver from cows can have up to 135 mg of phosphorus, about 14% of the daily value for adults.


Raw Chocolate


Surprise! Cocoa is actually a great source of phosphorus and it doesn’t take much cocoa powder to get a good dose of it either. Since cocoa powder comes from a fruit, it contains natural forms of phosphorus.

1 packet of hot chocolate can have over 130 mg of phosphorus. Unsweetened cocoa powder is an even better source. One ounce of unsweetened cocoa can contain 200 mg of phosphorus, about 20% of the recommended amount for an adult.


hitthatswitch / Flickr


Phosphate supplements are available for people who are deficient in this mineral. Phosphorus is a treatment used in homeopathic medicine to treat anxiety. Read more about it  here.

Phosphates have also been used to supplement the treatment of hypophosphatemia (not enough phosphorus), and hypercalcemia (too much calcium) and kidney stones. For those who are trying to boost their phosphorus levels, stick with foods instead of supplements unless directed to do so by a licensed physician. Include foods high in phosphorus in your diet to help boost your phosphorus levels.




  1. ” 5 Phosphorus .” Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1997 .
  6. Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application. Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences,
  7. Noori, Nazanin, et al. “Organic and inorganic dietary phosphorus and its management in chronic kidney disease.” Iran J Kidney Dis 4.2 (2010): 89-100.

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