Phosphorus

How much do you need daily?

Adults need 550 milligrams of phosphorus per day. You should be able to get all the phosphorus you need from your daily diet.

Are we getting enough?

The 2003 National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that average daily intakes of phosphorus from food were 1112 milligrams for women and 1493 milligrams for men.  That’s 202 per cent and 271 per cent of the recommended amount for women and men respectively. Overall, no men and less than 0.5 per cent of women had an intake of phosphorus below the lower recommended level. These intakes had increased since the previous survey in 1986/7. It seems likely that intakes may have increased further given the prevalence of phosphorus in processed foods.  

Why do we need it?

Phosphorus is necessary for healthy bones and teeth, it’s an essential component of all our cells and genetic information (DNA and RNA) and is important for maintaining the right chemical balance (pH) in the body. Phosphorus is also essential for energy metabolism and for the release of energy from food.

High intakes of phosphorus may affect calcium metabolism and its hormone control so it’s advisable to watch your intake – fizzy drinks can contain large amounts if they’re made with phosphoric acid.

Taking high doses of phosphorus in supplements can cause diarrhoea or stomach pain and if you take high doses in the long term, it can lead to calcium loss and weakened bones. Taking up to 250 milligrams a day on top of dietary intake (ie in addition to the estimated maximum intake of phosphorus from food of 2110 milligrams per day) is unlikely to cause any harm.

Do I need a supplement?

No, a healthy vegan diet containing the above foods on a daily basis will cover your needs.

The best plant sources

The best plant sources of phosphorus include nuts (peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, pecan nuts, hazelnuts/filberts and walnuts) wholegrains (quinoa, wholemeal spaghetti, wholegrain rice, oatmeal or rolled oats, wheatgerm, oatcakes and wholemeal bread) pulses (tofu, tempeh – fermented soya beans, lentils, edamame, peas and chickpeas), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and tahini – sesame seed paste and sunflower seeds), corn on the cob and parsnips.

Signs of deficiency

loss of appetite, anxiety, bone pain, fragile bones, fatigue, irregular breathing, irritability, joint stiffness, numbness, weakness, in children – slower growth and poor bone and tooth development.