Phosphorus Additives and Kidney Disease: Understanding Sneaky Additives and Bioavailability

Phosphorus additives and kidney disease is a very important topic. This website may be geared towards people living with kidney disease, but this post is really helpful for everyone: people with kidney disease, family members, friends, caregivers – everyone! Why? Because more and more people are consuming processed foods loaded with phosphorus additives. Research is showing that excessive phosphorus additive consumption is increasing the risk of death even in people without kidney disease. So the information is this post is beneficial to EVERYONE, not just people with kidney disease.

This post may contain affiliate links through which we may earn a small commission to help keep this website free.

Phosphorus Additives and Kidney Disease: What is a phosphorus additive?

A phosphorus additive is a compound that contains phosphorus and is added to a food product. There are several reasons that phosphorus might be added to a food. Here are just a few examples:

  • Phosphorus additives in dark colored colas help maintain the color of the drink. Without phosphorus, the cola would actually turn black!
  • Phosphorus additives in American cheese are what make it melt better
  • Phosphorus additives in white rice are actually part of the iron added to replace the B vitamins that are lost when turning brown rice into white rice.

Phosphorus additives are only found in processed foods. They do not occur naturally in fresh foods like fruits and vegetables.

Phosphorus Additives and Kidney Disease: Why are phosphorus additives bad?

Phosphorus additives are added in large quantities to many foods. These additives are also very efficiently absorbed by your body. The more foods you eat with phosphorus additives, the more likely you are to consume too much phosphorus. If you have kidney disease, your body has a hard time getting rid of the extra phosphorus. Too much phosphorus increases your risk of developing bone deposits in your blood vessels and increases your risk of death. Yikes!

Phosphorus Additives and Kidney Disease: What does “bioavailability” of phosphorus mean?

“Bioavailability” is a big, fancy word used to describe how well your body absorbs something. Your body does not actually absorb every nutrient that you put in your mouth. The phosphorus bioavailability of a food, or the amount of phosphorus absorbed by your body from a food, depends on where the phosphorus came from:

  • Phosphorus additives: these are almost completely absorbed. It is estimated that 90-100% of phosphorus additives will be absorbed.
  • Animal-based foods: the phosphorus in animal based foods such as chicken and cheese is bound to protein. In order to absorb the phosphorus, our body has to take some extra steps in the digestion process to break the phosphorus down. These extra steps result in only 60-80% of the phosphorus being absorbed.
  • Plant based foods: many plant-based foods seem like they are high in phosphorus, however the phosphorus in plant based foods such as fruits and nuts is bound to something called phytate. Humans do not naturally have the enzyme to break down phytase, so plant based phosphorus is not well absorbed. Depending on the food, 10-50% of the phosphorus is absorbed. Certain foods, such as sunflower seeds, have a bioavailability as low as 6%!

If your phosphorus levels or high (or you’re trying to prevent them from ever getting high!), it is recommended to choose foods that contain no phosphorus additives and have low bioavailability.

Phosphorus Additives and Kidney Disease: How do you know if a food contains phosphorus additives?

The only way to tell if a food contains phosphorus additives is to read the ingredient list. There are dozens of different kinds of phosphorus additives, and many of them are complex and hard to pronounce. The good news is that you don’t have to memorize a bunch of complicated ingredients. You just need to look for the letters “PHOS”.

phosphorus additives and kidney disease

If the ingredient list is too small, we recommend using the camera function on your phone to zoom in on the ingredients and make them easier to read.

Phosphorus Additives and Kidney Disease: How many phosphorus additives are okay in a food?

None. Unfortunately, we do not have any way of knowing how much of an additive is in a food. Are there only 10mg of phosphorus additives in a food? Or are there 100mg added? Since we have no way of knowing how much phosphorus has been added, we recommend avoiding phosphorus additives completely. For the majority of foods, there is usually a similar food product available that does not have an additive.

Looking for foods that contain no phosphorus additives and are good for people with kidney disease?

Check out our Food Guides where we dig through all the foods available in our food supply to find you the best options for people with kidney disease.

Scroll to Top