Everything You Need to Know About Phosphorus in Milk & Kidney Disease
Dairy products are a part of our standard diet. It’s in everything from your morning coffee to a topping on your pizza. Yet, dairy including milk contain phosphorus. Phosphorus is a nutrient, a mineral, which is filtered by your kidneys. When you have kidney disease, phosphorus levels can become dangerously high because your kidneys can’t filter it effectively. The result is extra phosphorus in your blood. High phosphorus levels leach calcium from your bones. This process can cause calcium deposits in blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. Over time this can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death with people with kidney disease. For patients on a renal diet, the question is…do you need to give up milk and dairy? What source of phosphorus is best from food?
There are two different types of phosphorus, organic and inorganic. In general, we recommend avoiding all forms of inorganic phosphorus as these tend to be found in processed foods such as soda pop, bread, pasta sauce, and are more easily absorbed in a renal diet. Organic phosphates occur naturally in whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and legumes. They also appear in supplements made with natural ingredients.
Is Cow’s Milk High in Phosphorus Content?
Phosphorus is an important nutrient. It’s actually the second most abundant element in your body. Its main function is to support healthy bones and teeth. It also works with other elements like Vitamin B for cellular function, muscle contractions, managing blood pressure, and nerve signaling. It’s important. However, as you know, if you have kidney disease and are on a renal diet, it’s important to track your phosphorus daily intake. And cow’s milk contains good amounts of phosphorus. According to the NIH, National Institute for Health, one cup of 2% cow's milk has 226 mg of phosphorus. For those with kidney disease, it’s recommended to keep your daily levels under 800-1000mg.
What Is a Safe Blood Level of Phosphorus?
There’s no real way for you to know on a day-to-day basis how much phosphorus is in your blood when you are following a renal diet. You can, and should, avoid or significantly reduce foods that are high in phosphorus. However, that can be challenging because most food labels don’t include phosphorus in their nutrition information. You can, however, get a blood test to measure your phosphorus levels. The level will be reported in mg/dl or milligrams per deciliter. The recommended range for dialysis patients is 3.0 to 5.5 mg/dL so 3 to 5.5 mg of phosphorus per deciliter of blood.
Can Kidney Patients Drink Milk?
If cow’s milk has 116 mg of phosphorus per half cup and you should keep your daily levels under 800 mg, should you or can you drink cow’s milk if you have kidney disease and are following a renal diet? Generally speaking, you can if you limit your intake, and you are vigilant about reducing your consumption of other high phosphorus foods. However, because there are so many milk alternatives and because it can be difficult to know how much phosphorus you’re getting from other food sources, it’s an easy step to stop drinking cow’s milk and look for a milk alternative. Let’s take a look at some low phosphorus milk alternatives to help you navigate this transition in the healthiest way.
The Best Low Phosphorus Milk
Plant based milk tends to have lower phosphorus levels than cow’s milk. However, some of them can still have very high levels of phosphorus. Some hemp milks, for example, can contain half your recommended daily level of phosphorus. And brands can change over time. Here are a few types of alternative milks to consider.
Phosphorus Content in Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is a plant based milk and is a lower phosphorus option. It has 127 mg of phosphorus per half cup. However, there are other alternative milks that have lower phosphorus content.
How Much Phosphorus Does Almond Milk Have?
Almond milk is one of the best choices because it’s so easy to find in the supermarket, there are a variety of options, and it’s low in phosphorus. For example, a half cup of Almond Breeze has 25mg and Silk Vanilla Almond has 15mg.
Soy Milk and Phosphorus
Soy milks vary widely on the amount of phosphorus they contain. It can range from 60-120 mg depending on the brand. Generally speaking, brands like Eden and Pacific are lower in phosphorus.
How Much Phosphorus in Rice Milk?
While some milks may not be a safe option, rice milk is. Rice Dream is a good brand, and the classic has about 30 mg per half cup. Their enriched, however, has more than twice that. Make sure to read labels!
Because phosphorus levels aren’t always included in the nutrition label, it’s important to look at the ingredients list. Look for:
- Phosphoric acid
- Sodium acid pyrophosphate
- Sodium tripolyphosphate
Knowing which milk alternatives are safe for you is important. It becomes even more important if you have Stage 3 or Stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease.
Milk to avoid if you have Stage 3 or 4 CKD
In addition to cow’s milk, there are some alternative milks to avoid. Some alternative milks, like hemp milk, for example, are extremely high in phosphorus.
Are There Any Safe Hemp Milks?
Hemp milk is to be avoided. It tends to run quite high in phosphorus, up to 215mg per half cup! There are better milk alternatives to choose from.
Oat Milk Phosphorus Levels
Oat milk isn’t a great option. It is dairy free and generally packed with nutrients, however it has around 135mg per half cup. That can be more than some types of cow’s milk.
Is Coconut Milk the Best Option?
While coconut milk can be lower in phosphorus, it’s on the higher level of the alternative milks. You’re better off with rice, almond, or some soy milks as sources of phosphorus.
Pick the Best Low Phosphorus Milk for You
Phosphorus is found in many of the foods we eat on a daily basis. If you have kidney disease, it’s extremely important to monitor your consumption. One simple way is to cut back on dairy consumption, because it is high in phosphorus. There are many wonderful dairy alternatives that can help you make the transition easily, and deliciously. Try a few of the low phosphorus dairy free options to find the one that best fits your taste buds and lifestyle. Almond, rice, and some soymilk products are a terrific place to start.