Why do you need it?

You need phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth. It’s an essential part of all your cells and DNA  (the genetic information contained in all your cells) and is important for maintaining the right chemical balance in your body. Phosphorus also helps release energy from food.

High dose phosphorus supplements can cause diarrhoea or stomach pain and high doses over time can cause body changes that pull calcium out of your bones increasing the risk of fracture. Excessive intakes from processed foods and fizzy drinks containing phosphate additives (eg phosphoric acid, dicalcium phosphate, sodium phosphate and trisodium phosphate), can be harmful, especially for people with kidney disease. A balanced diet containing a wide range of whole foods is crucial for meeting your nutrient needs, including phosphorus, while minimising the intake of processed and unhealthy foods.

Inorganic phosphate is used as a food additive to preserve colour, moisture and texture in processed foods. If you are following a low phosphorus diet, look out for these ‘hidden’ sources by reading food labels carefully.


Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency include loss of appetite, anxiety, bone pain, fragile bones, fatigue, irregular breathing, irritability, joint stiffness, numbness, weakness, in children – slower growth and poor bone and tooth development.

How much do you need?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not set a recommended intake. In the United States and Germany, for example, a daily intake of 700 milligrams of phosphorus is set as the recommended daily allowance for adults aged 19 years and older, but actual intakes are considerably higher in many regions of the world. The recommended intakes for infants, children, adolescents and pregnant and lactating women are given below.

Recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for phosphorus. Click to read more…
Age groupAdequate intake
Infants and children
0-6 months*100
7-12 months275
1-3 years460
4-8 years500
Pregnant women
Lactating women
*Adequate intake.
Source: Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 1997.

Where to find phosphorus

Phosphorus is present in nearly all foods, especially those rich in protein. The best plant-based sources include pulses, nuts and seeds but wholegrains, fruit and vegetables can contribute to your daily intake too. 

  • Pulses: Peas, beans and lentils are an excellent source of phosphorus and are commonly consumed in Uganda. They can be included in various dishes such as stews, soups and salads. One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 356 milligrams of phosphorus and a cup (177 grams) of cooked kidney beans contains 251 milligrams and one cup (160 grams) of peas, 187 milligrams. 
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds like peanuts, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame (simsim) seeds are rich in phosphorus. They can be eaten as snacks or added to meals for extra crunch and flavour. A small handful (28 grams) of Brazil nuts contains 206 milligrams of phosphorus, a handful of cashew nuts contains 139 milligrams and one tablespoon (nine grams) of sesame (simsim) seeds, 57 milligrams. 
  • Wholegrains: Wholegrains such as millet, sorghum and brown rice are good sources of phosphorus. They are staple foods in Uganda and can be included in porridges, stews and side dishes. One cup (202 grams) of brown rice contains 208 milligrams of phosphorus. 
  • Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach and broccoli, for example, contain phosphorus although in smaller amounts compared to other foods. Vegetables are commonly consumed in Uganda and can be included in various dishes. One large baked sweet potato (180 grams), for example, contains 97 milligrams of phosphorus.    
  • Fruit: While fruits are not as high in phosphorus compared to other food groups, some fruits like bananas and oranges contain small amounts. One banana (115 grams) contains just 25 milligrams, but they are commonly available in Uganda and if eaten regularly can contribute to your daily intake.