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Phosphorus: Too much of a good thing?

Orange Icon  Phosphorus: Too much of a good thing?

Orange Icon  Phosphorus: Too much of a good thing?

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Many articles in the past have dealt with the dangers of getting too little of this mineral or that vitamin. Sometimes, though, it's necessary to let people know the dangers of getting too much of a good thing. One of those good things, something that is absolutely essential to the proper functioning and strength of our bodies, is phosphorus. It's astounding how much our bodies rely on phosphorus:

  • It binds with calcium to promote strong bones
  • It helps regulate heartbeat
  • Phosphorus works with Vitamin B to convert food into energy
  • It works to maintain pH balance

Phosphorus even works in our bodies to efficiently use carbohydrates and fat. Phosphorus is a dietary Gal Friday...wearing a dozen hats and ensuring that essential functions go off without a hitch.

Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in our bodies (calcium is the first). Luckily, phosphorus is found naturally in many food sources. Its prevalence is highest in animal products (fish, chicken and beef), but it can also be found in milk products, peanuts, tofu and soybeans. The recommended daily phosphorus intake for a healthy adult is about 700mg/day, and if you're meeting your daily protein requirements, chances are you're stocked up on phosphorus too.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the concern we need to have with phosphorus is that we may on occasion get too much. While the RDA is 700mg, the upper limit of daily phosphorus is 4,000mg/day. That's a huge disparity, and it would be tough to eat that much protein in a single day to account for 4,000mg of phosphorus. The way you quadruple your daily intake of phosphorus is by adding packaged and processed foods into your diet, many of which contain phosphorus and phosphoric acid.

For most adults, the kidneys do an excellent job of filtering out unneeded or unnecessary minerals. However, if you suffer from kidney disease, or a thyroid condition, excess phosphorus in your blood can cause calcifications on many of your organs. Too much phosphorus also interferes with the creation of calcitriol, which is essential in helping the body absorb calcium.

Unabsorbed calcium leads to weaker bones, more fractures and breaks, and osteoporosis.

Here are a few tips for ensuring you’re getting the right amount of phosphorus in your diet:

  1. Familiarize yourself with phosphorus-rich foods: I included several of them earlier, but take some time to find out where phosphorus can be found. This is especially important because phosphorus isn't included on many nutritional labels, even when it's used as an additive.

  2. One of the best ways to avoid overdoing it on your daily phosphorus levels is to cut out processed foods entirely. The phosphorus found in fish, chicken and lean beef is the kind most easily absorbed and used by your body, followed by the phytic acid found in plants. If you're eating a balanced, healthy diet, you're likely getting all the phosphorus you need. Plus, cutting back on (or cutting out entirely) processed foods has the added benefit of keeping you away from all the other chemicals and additives that keep foods fresh on the shelf for six months to a year.

  3. Don't drink soda: Phosphoric acid is present in all dark sodas. If you're partial to Coke or Pepsi throughout the day, you're massively adding to your daily intake of phosphorus. Plus, soda's really bad for you.

Phosphorus is an essential part of your diet. Luckily, it isn't something you need to actively try to get enough of. Eat right, and your phosphorus level takes care of itself. But as my mother, and I'm sure yours, always said, everything in moderation.