Phosphorus is a mineral that’s found naturally in many foods and also added to many processed foods. When you eat foods that have phosphorus in them, most of the phosphorus goes into your blood. Healthy kidneys remove extra phosphorus from the blood.
If your kidneys don’t work well, you can develop a high phosphorus level in your blood, putting you at greater risk of heart disease, weak bones, joint pain and even death.
Your phosphorus needs depend on your kidney function. If you have early-stage kidney disease or you’re on dialysis, you may need to limit phosphorus. Nearly every food contains some phosphorus, so this can be hard to do.
The best way to limit phosphorus in your diet is to limit foods highest in phosphorus, including:
- Fast foods, foods sold at gas stations, and other packaged and convenience foods
- Processed cheeses, such as American cheese and cheese spreads
- Fresh or frozen meats that have added flavor or fluids to keep them moist
- Cola and pepper-type sodas, many flavored waters, bottled teas, energy or sports drinks, many powdered drink mixes, beer, and wine.
Check food labels carefully
Manufacturers may add phosphorus when processing foods to thicken them, improve taste, prevent discoloration or preserve them. Check food labels to see whether any ingredients contain “phos” in the term. When trying to limit phosphorus, look for foods that don’t list “phos” among the ingredients
Examples of phosphorus food additives include:
- Calcium phosphate
- Disodium phosphate
- Phosphoric acid
- Monopotassium phosphate
- Sodium acid pyrophosphate
- Sodium tripolyphosphate
Here are some smart choices for healthy eating with kidney disease
1. Red bell peppers
- 1/2 cup serving red bell pepper = 1 mg sodium, 88 mg potassium, 10 mg phosphorus
Red bell peppers are low in potassium and high in flavor, but that’s not the only reason they’re perfect for the kidney diet. These tasty vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as vitamin B6, folic acid and fiber. Red bell peppers are good for you because they contain lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against certain cancers.
Eat red bell peppers raw with dip as a snack or appetizer, or mix them into tuna or chicken salad. You can also roast peppers and use them as a topping on sandwiches or lettuce salads, chop them for an omelet, add them to kabobs on the grill or stuff peppers with ground turkey or beef and bake them for a main dish.
- 1/2 cup serving green cabbage = 6 mg sodium, 60 mg potassium, 9 mg phosphorus
A cruciferous vegetable, cabbage is packed full of phytochemicals, chemical compounds in fruit or vegetables that break up free radicals before they can do damage. Many phytochemicals are also known to protect against and fight cancer, as well as foster cardiovascular health.
High in vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, cabbage is also a good source of vitamin B6 and folic acid. Low in potassium and low in cost, it’s an affordable addition to the kidney diet.
Raw cabbage makes a great addition to the dialysis diet as coleslaw or topping for fish tacos. You can steam, microwave or boil it, add butter or cream cheese plus pepper or caraway seeds and serve it as a side dish. Cabbage Rolls Made with Turkey are a great appetizer, and if you’re feeling fancy, you can stuff a cabbage with ground meat and bake it for a flavorful meal bursting with nutrients.
- 1/2 cup serving boiled cauliflower = 9 mg sodium, 88 mg potassium, 20 mg phosphorus
Another cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is high in vitamin C and a good source of folate and fiber. It’s also packed full of indoles, glucosinolates and thiocyanates—compounds that help the liver neutralize toxic substances that could damage cell membranes and DNA.
Serve it raw as crudités with dip, add it to a salad, or steam or boil it and season with spices such as turmeric, curry powder, pepper and herb seasonings. You can also make a nondairy white sauce, pour it over the cauliflower and bake until tender. You can pair cauliflower with pasta or even mash cauliflower as a dialysis diet replacement for mashed potatoes.
- 1 clove garlic = 1 mg sodium, 12 mg potassium, 4 mg phosphorus
Garlic helps prevent plaque from forming on your teeth, lowers cholesterol and reduces inflammation.
Buy it fresh, bottled, minced or powdered, and add it to meat, vegetable or pasta dishes. You can also roast a head of garlic and spread on bread. Garlic provides a delicious flavor and garlic powder is a great substitute for garlic salt in the dialysis diet.
- 1/2 cup serving onion = 3 mg sodium, 116 mg potassium, 3 mg phosphorus
Onion, a member of the Allium family and a basic flavoring in many cooked dishes, contains sulfur compounds which give it its pungent smell. But in addition to making some people cry, onions are also rich in flavonoids, especially quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that works to reduce heart disease and protects against many cancers. Onions are low in potassium and a good source of chromium, a mineral that helps with carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism.
Try using a variety of onions including white, brown, red and others. Eat onions raw on burgers, sandwiches and in salads, cook them and use as a caramelized topping or fry them into onion rings. Include onions in recipes such as Italian Beef with Peppers and Onions.
- 1 medium apple with skin = 0 sodium, 158 mg potassium, 10 mg phosphorus
Apples have been known to reduce cholesterol, prevent constipation, protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of cancer. High in fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds, an apple a day may really keep the doctor away. Good news for people with kidney disease who already have their share of doctor visits.
This kidney diet winner can be paired with the previous good-for-you food, onions, to make a unique Apple Onion Omelet. With versatile apples you can eat them raw, make baked apples, stew apples, make them into apple sauce, or drink them as apple juice or apple cider.
- 1/2 cup serving cranberry juice cocktail = 3 mg sodium, 22 mg potassium, 3 mg phosphorus
- 1/4 cup serving cranberry sauce = 35 mg sodium, 17 mg potassium, 6 mg phosphorus
- 1/2 cup serving dried cranberries = 2 mg sodium, 24 mg potassium and 5 mg phosphorus
These tangy, tasty berries are known to protect against bladder infections by preventing bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. In a similar way, cranberries also protect the stomach from ulcer-causing bacteria and protect the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, promoting GI health. Cranberries have also been shown to protect against cancer and heart disease.
Cranberry juice and cranberry sauce are the most frequently consumed cranberry products. You can also add dried cranberries to salads or have them as a snack.
- 1/2 cup serving fresh blueberries = 4 mg sodium, 65 mg potassium, 7 mg phosphorus
Blueberries are high in antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, which give them their blue color, and they are bursting with natural compounds that reduce inflammation. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C; manganese, a compound that keeps your bones healthy; and fiber. They may also help protect the brain from some of the effects of aging. Antioxidants in blueberries and other berries have been shown to help slow bone breakdown in rats made to be low in estrogen.
Buy blueberries fresh, frozen or dried, and try them in cereal or , topped with whipped topping, in a fruit smoothie. You can also drink blueberry juice.
- 1/2 cup serving raspberries = 0 mg sodium, 93 mg potassium, 7 mg phosphorus
Raspberries contain a phytonutrient called ellagic acid which helps neutralize free radicals in the body to prevent cell damage. They also contain flavonoids called anthocyanins, antioxidants which give them their red color. An excellent source of manganese, vitamin C, fiber and folate, a B vitamin, raspberries may have properties that inhibit cancer cell growth and tumor formation.
Add raspberries to cereal, or puree and sweeten them to make a dessert sauce or add them to vinaigrette dressing.
- 1/2 cup serving (5 medium) fresh strawberries = 1 mg sodium, 120 mg potassium, 13 mg phosphorus
Strawberries are rich in two types of phenols: anthocyanins and ellagitannins. Anthocyananins are what give strawberries their red color and are powerful antioxidants that help protect body cell structures and prevent oxidative damage. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese and a very good source of fiber. They are known to provide heart protection, as well as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory components.
Eat strawberries with cereal, smoothies and salad,or slice and serve them fresh or top them with whipped topping. If you’d like a more elaborate dessert, you can make strawberry pudding or sorbet, or puree and sweeten them to serve as a dessert.
- 1/2 cup serving fresh sweet cherries = 0 mg sodium, 160 mg potassium, 15 mg phosphorus
Cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation when eaten daily. They are also packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that protect the heart.
Eat fresh cherries as a snack or make a cherry sauce to serve with lamb or pork. Cherry juice is another way to consume this tasty food.
12. Red grapes
- 1/2 cup serving red grapes = 1 mg sodium, 88 mg potassium, 4 mg phosphorus
Red grapes contain several flavonoids that give them their reddish color. Flavonoids help protect against heart disease by preventing oxidation and reducing the formation of blood clots. Resveratrol, a flavonoid found in grapes, may also stimulate production of nitric oxide which helps relax muscle cells in the blood vessels to increase blood flow. These flavonoids also provide protection against cancer and prevent inflammation.
Buy grapes with red or purple skin since their anthocyanin content is higher. Freeze them to eat as a snack or to quench thirst for those on a fluid restriction for the dialysis diet. Add grapes to a fruit salad or chicken salad. Try a unique kidney diet recipe for Turkey Kabobs that feature grapes. You can also drink them as grape juice.
13. Egg whites
- 2 egg whites = 7 grams protein, 110 mg sodium, 108 mg potassium, 10 mg phosphorus
Egg whites are pure protein and provide the highest quality of protein with all the essential amino acids. For the kidney diet, egg whites provide protein with less phosphorus than other protein sources such as egg yolk or meats.
Buy powdered, fresh or pasteurized egg whites. Make an omelet or egg white sandwich, add pasteurized egg whites to smoothies or shakes, make deviled egg snacks,or add whites of hard-boiled eggs to tuna salad or garden salad to add extra protein.
- 3 ounces wild salmon = 50 mg sodium, 368 mg potassium, 274 mg phosphorus
Fish provides high-quality protein and contains anti-inflammatory fats called omega-3s. The healthy fats in fish can help fight diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Omega-3s also help lower low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol, which is bad cholesterol, and raise high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol, which is good cholesterol.
15. Olive oil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil = less than 1 mg sodium, less than 1 mg potassium, 0 mg phosphorus
Olive oil is a great source of oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid. The monounsaturated fat in olive oil protects against oxidation. Olive oil is rich in polyphenols and antioxidant compounds that prevent inflammation and oxidation.
Studies show that populations that use large amounts of olive oil instead of other oils have lower rates of heart disease and cancer.
Talk to your renal dietitian about incorporating these top 15 foods for a kidney diet into your healthy eating plan. Keep in mind that these foods are healthy for everyone—including family members and friends who do not have kidney disease or are not on dialysis. When you stock your kitchen with delicious, healthy, kidney-friend foods that’s one big step to helping you do well on your kidney diet.
The contents of this and other individual articles are based upon the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of health professionals we follow and their respective communities. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.