Phosphorus: Reference and Dietary Sources


In this article, we describe:

  • the major purposes of this specific nutrient in the human body, 
  • its experimentally confirmed health uses, 
  • conventional ways to estimate nutrient status,
  • nutrient’s toxicities and deficiencies,
  • experimentally confirmed and approved levels of the nutrient intake for different demographics,
  • dietary sources of the nutrient.


Phosphorus is a mineral that makes up 1% of a person’s total body weight. It is the second most abundant mineral in the body. It is present in every cell of the body. Most of the phosphorus in the body is found in the bones and teeth.

The main function of phosphorus is in the formation of bones and teeth. 

It plays an important role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats. It is also needed for the body to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues. Phosphorus also helps the body make ATP, a molecule the body uses to store energy. Phosphorus works with the B vitamins. It also helps with kidney function, muscle contractions, normal heartbeat, and Nerve signaling.

Phosphorus is so readily available in the food supply, so deficiency is rare.

Excessively high levels of phosphorus in the blood, although rare, can combine with calcium to form deposits in soft tissues, such as muscle. High levels of phosphorus in blood only occur in people with severe kidney disease or severe dysfunction of their calcium regulation. In recent years, the increased consumption of soft drinks, which are buffered with phosphates, has been a concern. There may be up to 500 mg of phosphorus per serving of a soft drink, with essentially no calcium.

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Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Phosphorus

0–6 months*100 mg100 mg
7-12 months*275 mg275 mg
1–3 years460 mg460 mg
4–8 years500 mg500 mg
9-14 years1,250 mg1, 250 mg
14-18 years1,250 mg1,2050 mg1,250 mg1,250 mg
19–50 years700 mg700 mg700 mg700 mg

* Adequate Intake (AI).

Dietary Sources of Phosphorus

The main food sources are the protein food groups of meat and milk, as well as processed foods that contain sodium phosphate. A diet that includes the right amounts of calcium and protein will also provide enough phosphorus.

Whole-grain breads and cereals contain more phosphorus than cereals and breads made from refined flour. However, the phosphorus is stored in a form that is not absorbed by humans.

Fruits and vegetables contain only small amounts of phosphorus.

Selected Food Sources of Phosphorus

FoodMilligrams (mg) per ServingPercent of DV*
Pumpkin or squash seeds, without shell, 60 mL (1/4 cup)67697
Sunflower seeds, without shell, 60 mL (1/4 cup)375-39356
Tempeh/fermented soy product, cooked, 150 g (3/4 cup)38054
Sardines, canned in oil, 75g (2 ½ oz)36853
Cottage cheese, 250 mL (1 cup)291-35853
Cheese (cheddar, gruyere, swiss, emmental, gouda, mozzarella, edam, provolone), 50 g (1 ½ oz)232-30243
Beans, adzuki, cooked, 175 mL (3/4 cup)28641
Milk (3.3 homo, 2, 1, skim, chocolate), 250 mL (1 cup)217-27239
Lentils, cooked, 175 mL (3/4 cup)26438
Fortified soy beverage, 250mL (1 cup)25336
Bran flakes, 30 g 34436
Oatmeal, instant, cooked, 175 mL (¾ cup)14236
Quinoa, cooked, 125 mL (1/2 cup)14936
Salmon, canned, 75g (2 ½ oz)244-24735
Yogurt, Greek, all types, 175g (3/4 cup)156-24635
Mackerel, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)120-23834
Chickpeas/garbanzo beans, 175 mL (3/4 cup)20429
Tofu, cooked, 175 mL (3/4 cup)146-20429
Rainbow trout, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)20229
Pork, various cuts, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)130-22129
Salmon, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)189-19227
Veal, various cuts, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)178-19427
Beans (kidney, black-eyed, cowpeas, cranberry, roman), cooked, 175 mL (3/4 cup)177-18627
Beef or lamb, various cuts, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)144-18026
Beef, ground, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)134-17424
Chicken or turkey, various cuts, cooked, 75g (2 ½ oz)134-16323
Egg, cooked, 2 large126-15722
Tuna, light, canned in water, 75g (2 ½ oz)10415

* DV = Daily Value. The DV for Phosphorus used above is 700 mg. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.


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