How to kick the High-Oxalate Habit
The most straightforward way to relieve the pain of oxalate poisoning is to:
- stop eating foods high in oxalates (gradually),
- choose nutritious, low-oxalate options, and most importantly,
- gradually lower your oxalate intake to less than 60 mg per day (and eventually to 50 mg/day or less).
What makes low-oxalate eating hard to do?
Here is why, for some people, low-oxalate eating is easier said than done.
Awareness of the toxicity of oxalates in foods may be new to you, contradicting the long-held faith you may have in certain foods. Accepting and remembering new facts can be difficult and confusing. You have to be willing to update your knowledge and let go of misleading ideas (like “all dark greens are healthy”). That’s especially challenging when the toxicity of oxalate is overlooked even by professionals who should know better.
People consider many high-oxalate foods to be healthy and “normal.” For example, spinach is now considered a healthy dark “green.” But its present popularity ignores a long history of well-documented problems caused by the oxalate it contains and more recent discoveries like the low nutrient value of spinach sold in stores.
Spinach just isn’t that healthy
Several studies of calcium absorption in rats, dogs, and humans were conducted in 1981, replicating discoveries first made in the 1930s. These studies found that spinach did not deliver the calcium expected based on the mineral analysis of the food itself. Thus, it is established fact that the presence of oxalates in the food impairs the absorption of calcium. One researcher in the 1930s, E.F. Kohman, found that his lab animals developed weak, thin bones, low body weight, and could not successfully reproduce when fed spinach, which was causing calcium deficiency.
Even the nutrients we think are in spinach may not really be there. Researchers at Penn State found dramatic, irreversible nutrient loss in shipped spinach, especially folate, a vitamin B compound, and important carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin). Post-harvest, commercial spinach travels to processing facilities for sorting, washing, packaging. After that, it moves on to wholesale distributes who deliver it to retailers. The retailers then store it and set it out for display, then the consumer transports and stores it at home. During each step, a number of factors cause loss of nutrients, but time and temperature are key. As time passes and temperatures creep up above 39°, nutrients fade away. This research shows that published values for nutrients in fresh spinach do not reflect the amounts you consume.
Even so, the carotenoids that are left may not offer much benefit because you may not absorb them. This because the carotenoids are not well absorbed from plants under any circumstances; eggs are a better source of stable carotenoids that you can easily absorb. In fact, all the important nutrients in spinach can be readily found in other low-oxalate foods.
Confusion is widespread
Even among health experts there is no consensus about which foods contain how much oxalate, and which other foods to replace them with. For example, data from before 1980—even data published by the USDA—contain measurement errors that make them unreliable. But the old data lives on. Even recent editions of the dietitians’ bible, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, contains faulty data on oxalates in foods. Many Internet postings are also filled with errors. Worse still, many doctors’ lists are out-of-date, incomplete, and inaccurate.
There is no official list. But there is accurate data available and more is appearing all the time. Yet the easy, accurate, and up-to-date database of the oxalate content of foods that we all need continues to be missing from mainstream nutrition, public health, and medicine.
The good news is that there is an option that consumers can access and refer to. You can get a free, extensive list of food oxalate content from The Autism Oxalate Project that has only minimal errors and is based on recent, accurate testing performed at the University of Wyoming. Based on that source and on other reliable data from published studies, I provide some streamlined guidance here on this website.
Good guidance is necessary, but hard to find
If you’re going to try the low-oxalate diet, it’s important to try it correctly. And that requires you to become informed and armed with accurate data. Here is quick way to start:
- Scroll down to the table below which lists just a few of the “worst offenders”—foods that have particularly high levels of oxalate.
- Check which high-oxalate foods you eat now.
- Replace them with the corresponding low-oxalate foods that are healthy and tasty.
- You can learn more about how to lower your oxalate intake using these resources:
There are many nutritious low-oxalate options. Here is a brief overview.
|Spinach Salad||Romaine or Boston Lettuce
Watercress, Arugula, Mache (corn salad)
|Chili or Pizza||My Thai Chili or Sloppy Joe|
|Soy and Great Northern Beans||Coconut|
|Almond milk||Coconut milk; Dairy Milk|
|Nuts||Raw pumpkin seeds, sprouted
Flax Seed Crackers
|Carrots, Celery, Beets||Cucumber (use in place of celery)
|Chocolate||Vanilla ice cream made with whole milk or coconut milk|
Recommended vegetables: Winter squash, Green peas, Bok choy, Mustard greens
Recommended fruits: Blueberries, Lemons, Limes, Melons, Pineapple, Papaya, Mango, Gala apple, Grapes
For more information, visit The VP (Vulvar Pain) Foundation or The Autism Oxalate Project at the Autism Research Institute.
See my page on nourishment to learn about some the benefits of homemade bone broth.