Phosphorus in Foods: What to Know When You're on a Kidney Diet

Anyone who has ever tried to limit the amount of phosphorus they eat will tell you that almost every food has phosphorus. Knowing what to eat and how much is the key to keeping phosphorus levels in a good range. Nutrition Facts on food labels often do not give information on phosphorus. Because it’s not listed does not mean the food is phosphorus free. Talking to a renal dietitian or using a nutritional reference guide will be help you learn the phosphorus content of most foods.

In many cases there are low phosphorus options for foods high in phosphorus. When limiting phosphorus in the diet, portion size is important. Resources such as food lists, grocery lists and recipes provided by the dietitian help you learn about phosphorus control. Visit the recipes section for renal-friendly meals and snacks that are low in phosphorus.

Some low-phosphorus foods

  • Certain brands of nondairy creamers, rice milk (unenriched), soy milks
  • Cream cheese, sour cream
  • Soda-lemon-lime, grape, strawberry, cream soda, root beer, homemade iced tea, homemade lemonade, hot apple cider, cranberry juice
  • Gelatin, Popsicles, sherbet, Sorbet
  • Jellybeans, fondant, gumdrops, hard candy
  • Unsalted popcorn or pretzels
  • Sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, vanilla wafers, lemon cake, white or yellow cake, angel food cake
  • Jam, jelly, honey, cream cheese
  • Margarine, butter
  • Corn or rice cereals, refined wheat cereals
  • Cream of wheat, cream of rice, grits
  • French, Italian or white bread
  • White rice, pasta, couscous
  • Fresh or frozen meat, fish and poultry (compared to processed)
  • Fruits such as apples, berries, grapes, plums, pineapple, canned pears, peaches, fruit cocktail
  • Vegetables such as green beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, summer squash, bell pepper, cucumber, lettuce, onion, radish

Note: Even if food is considered low in phosphorus, portion size also plays a role in the amount of phosphorus you get from foods. Consult your dietitian and doctor to provide specific recommendations based on your individual needs.

Some high-phosphorus foods

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Beer, cola, milk-based coffee, chocolate drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Bran
  • Brown rice, wild rice
  • Whole grain breads, cereals, crackers
  • Corn tortillas
  • Pancakes, waffles, biscuits
  • Pizza
  • Avocado
  • Nuts, seeds, nut butters
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Corn, peas
  • Processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage, turkey sausage, bologna
  • Organ meats
  • Sardines

Note: The above list does not include all foods high in phosphorus. Portion size also plays a role in the amount of phosphorus you get from foods. Consult your dietitian and doctor to provide specific recommendations based on your individual needs.

Lower phosphorus food tips

The renal dietitian is specially trained to help people with kidney disease make the best food choices. You will be given individual guidance, taking into consideration their lab results, medical condition and food preferences. Make sure you consult with your dietitian and doctor about your situation. Below are some general tips to decrease your phosphorus intake.

  • Instead of milk, use substitutes like non-dairy creamers, rice milk (unenriched) or soy milk. Because some non-dairy creamers and soy milks are high in phosphorus, check with a renal dietitian for a list of acceptable brand name products.
  • Instead of cheese, use cream cheese or sour cream.
  • Instead of cola or Dr. Pepper® have cream soda, lemon-lime soda, grape soda, homemade lemonade, homemade iced tea or root beer.
  • Instead of ice cream have gelatin, Popsicles®, sherbet or sorbet (remember to count as fluid).
  • Instead of chocolate or nuts have jellybeans, fondant, gumdrops, hard candy, unsalted popcorn or unsalted pretzels.
  • Instead of chocolate cookies or cake have sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, vanilla wafers or vanilla, lemon or angel food cake.
  • Instead of hot chocolate or cocoa have hot apple cider or hot spiced cranberry juice.
  • Instead of bran, oat or whole wheat cereals use cereals made from corn, refined wheat or rice.
  • Instead of whole grain breads use French, Italian or white bread.
  • Instead of peanut butter use jam, jelly, honey, cream cheese margarine or butter.
  • Instead of dried beans or peas have green beans or wax beans.
  • Instead of brown rice or wild rice use white rice, pasta, macaroni, grits or couscous seasoned with margarine and herbs.
  • Instead of processed meats, fish and poultry use fresh or fresh frozen items.

Find out more about phosphorus

  • Ask your healthcare team questions about phosphorus and your blood levels.
  • Contact kidney organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation to request educational materials.
  • Checkout food product websites. Some provide nutritional information including phosphorus.
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