Phosphate in food

This FAQs will give you information about foods to choose if you have high blood phosphate levels and kidney problems.  Some people may have medical reasons for why they need different information.  Always follow advice from your own dietitian or doctor.

Do I need to eat less phosphate?

This will depend on your kidney function and if the level of phosphate in your blood is above the normal range.  Eating less phosphate can help you to control the level of phosphate in the blood.  You don’t need to eat less phosphate unless you have been advised to by your doctor or dietitian.

If your blood levels stay high, you may also be prescribed tablets called ‘phosphate binders’. These are taken with food to reduce the amount of phosphate absorbed from food.  The dietitian, doctor or pharmacist can tell you how and when to take these tablets.

What is phosphate?

Phosphate (also known as phosphorus) is found in a variety of foods.  It is needed for healthy bones. Our kidneys help control the level of phosphate in our blood.  Phosphate not needed by the body is usually passed out in the urine.  The normal range for phosphate in the blood is 0.85–1.5mmol/l. 

When your kidneys are not working properly, phosphate can build up in your blood.  This can cause itchy skin, red eyes, aching joints and over time it can weaken your bones.  It can also make blood vessels hard and increase your risk of heart disease.

What foods are high in phosphate?

High phosphate food and drinks include:

• Cola drinks and other dark coloured fizzy drinks which contain phosphoric acid
• Processed foods containing phosphate additives such as ready meals, processed meats and cake mixes. Check the ingredients label for additives with ‘phosphate’ in the name such as diphosphates, triphosphates, sodium phosphate
• Nuts and chocolate
• Products with raising agents such as muffins and scones
• Malted milk drinks, drinking chocolate and cocoa
• Evaporated and condensed milk
• Fish with edible bones such as sardines, pilchards and whitebait
• Shellfish such as fresh crab and scampi
• Offal products such as liver, liver sausage and pate

Other high phosphate foods such as dairy products, milk, fish and meat are good sources of protein and other nutrients.  Your dietitian can guide you on how much of these foods to eat.

Phosphate in food