Easy to Over-Do It, Easy to Fix It
Your go-to foods could pave the way for a dangerous oxalate level in your body and lead to very real health problems. Consider these common examples of popular foods that make it way too easy to overdo oxalate:
Are you into peanut butter, chia seeds, seeded wheat bread, sesame crackers, or nuts? If so, you could be eating a dangerous level of oxalate.
Do you reach for spinach for your salads, as a quick-cook side dish, or the tastiest way to green up your smoothies?
Do you like potatoes? Chips, fries, baked, or mashed? Perhaps you like the “healthier” sweet potato chips and fries?
Do you love black beans in your burritos?
Do you like second helpings or “super” serving sizes?
These days, we have at least three factors working against us:
- the ubiquity of high oxalate foods,
- the frequency with which we eat them (it’s easier than ever to make potato chips or french fries daily fare), and also
- restaurant portion sizes that get us in trouble.
Eating quick-and-easy means reaching for nuts, peanut butter, or chips. Eating out, well . . .
Hard-to-Resist Super-Sized French Fries
Many restaurants jumbo size their standard french fry order as cheap advertising. You see, it costs them only pennies to wow the customer and offer a memorable experience that they’ll tell others about. Take Five Guys, for example*. Famous for giant piles of fries, their regular fry order weighs a gargantuan 411 grams—almost a pound! About 5 years ago, Five Guys expanded their menu with a “Little” order of fries. Weighing in at 227 grams (½ lb.) a “Little” Fries order is still too big: it’s easily enough for two people.
Unfortunately, your body takes a hit with the 100 mg of oxalate that comes with the “Little” fry order. If they were made with sweet potatoes: a “Little” fry order would deliver 164mg of oxalate.* For perspective, consider this: 150mg is the amount that medical researchers claim is our typical all-day consumption of oxalate in food. Does that ring true to you? On the days you have the “Little” fry order, is that the only plant food you eat all day? (Hint: add at least an additional 12mg oxalate from the white hamburger bun with sesame seeds on it, and another 3 – 5mg for toppings such as tomatoes.)
The ubiquity of “would you like fries or chips with that?” encourages us all to make potatoes a too-frequent, regular thing. But, you don’t need to eat out frequently to get into a high oxalate food habit, it can happen to anyone. Just fall in love with the wrong food. It’s sort of arbitrary. Few people seem to understand that the danger of regular excessive oxalate consumption is not just theoretical. Check out Sam’s story.
Unlucky in Love: Sam
Sam was an author, naturopath, amateur tennis player, and successful business man. He loved the flavor of buckwheat. He ate it every single day, for many decades. He also liked spinach omelets, and frequently ate almonds as snacks. On Sam’s typical day, these three foods alone could have contributed at least 775 mg of oxalate to his total intake (1 cup cooked buckwheat 180mgª & 3/4 cup raw baby spinach 480mg § & 1 oz. almonds 115mg §). Despite his expertise in health, Sam was unaware of the damaging effects of eating high oxalate foods, nor did he know that his go-to foods have so much oxalate.
Let’s fill in the rest of his daily diet. In addition to these favored anchor foods, it’s possible that he also ate:
(at least) one slice of multi-grain wheat bread (16mg) with his omelet,
at least ¼ tsp black pepper (4mg) over the course of the day;
a cup of black or green tea (25mg)
a few carrot or celery sticks (15mg);
a peanut butter snack (50mg / 2 T);
½ c of brown rice with dinner (10mg);
green beans (18mg/ ½ c boiled)
a tiny bite of milk chocolate for a treat or dessert (20mg/½ oz.).
A day that included all these foods would bring Sam to a total intake of 920 mg of oxalate. That is a potentially dangerous oxalate level in only a modest amount of food.
The Trouble with Healthy Food
I learned about Sam’s love of buckwheat, almonds, and spinach omelets on Dec. 29, 2015. Sam called me after reading my article: “When Heathy Isn’t”. He told me that he had been struggling with a set of problems he called “chronic break down”—including attacks of severe muscle soreness in his upper back, neck, and his upper buttock muscles. The debilitating pain would come and then disappear without rhyme or reason. Sometimes it involved severe muscle weakness that would make movement nearly impossible. This was distressing and embarrassing to an accomplished tennis player and health expert.
After reading my article Sam had a “eureka” moment. At last, in his late 60s, he learned of a critical missing piece in his understanding of the health effects of foods. Sadly, Sam died less than 2 years later, despite his devotion to healthy living, a happy marriage, and a thriving business. Based on our conversations, I know he believed that a lifetime of high-oxalate eating contributed to his early passing.
Counting a Daze-Worth of OxalateTake a look at the table below. It imagines a diet based on Sam’s favorite meals and snacks and compares it with another menu that some other man might have selected. Neither person selected his foods with oxalate in mind, but the difference is astounding – Sam’s diet is 14 times higher in oxalate. A full gram of oxalate in a day is a toxic level of oxalate exposure!
|Meal||Sam (mg Oxalate)||Low-Ox (mg Oxalate)|
|Breakfast|| ½ C buckwheat (180)|
¼ C Raspberries (18)
½ C whole Milk (0.5)
1 C black tea (24)
|1 C Rice Chex™ (8)
½ C Blueberries (4)
½ C whole Milk (0.5)
Unflavored Coffee (2)
|Lunch||Spinach Omelet with Salsa|
3 eggs (0)
¾ C baby spinach leaves (480)
1/8 tsp. black pepper (2)
¼ C Picante salsa (10)
1 slice multi-grain toast (16)
1 med. Anjou pear (20)
1 C Whole Milk (1)
|Cheese & Shrimp Quesadilla
Cheese (0) Mushrooms, canned (¼ C) (0.3)
Baby Shrimp (0)
White Flour Tortilla (10).
½ C corn (2)
2 T red onion (0.5)
2 T red bell pepper (0.25)
½ clove garlic (0.1)
2 tsp. lime juice (0.2)
2 tsp. olive oil (0)
¼ tsp. chili powder (2)
¼ tsp. cayenne (1.5)
Apple and Banana Fruit Bar (3)
|Snack||1 oz. almonds (115)||Cheddar cheese (0)
6 saltines (6)
|Dinner||Homemade chicken soup made with: chicken (0)|
½ carrot (5)
½ stalk of celery (5)
¼ C ckd. brown rice (5)
¼ C boiled green beans (10)
½ C raw curly kale (10)
1/8 tsp. black pepper (2)
1/8 tsp. celery seed (4)
½ tsp. dried oregano (4)
1 Tbs. fresh basil (3)
½ oz milk chocolate (20 +)
|Baked Chicken seasoned with Shake 'N Bake™ (4)
1½ C Caesar Salad: romaine (1.5), croutons (3.5), dressing (1.5)
½ C cooked mustard greens (6)
½ C buttered white rice (3)
5 oz. red wine (0)
½ C red grapes (2)
|Evening Snack||1 Clementine (19)|
1½ T peanut butter (36)
5 Keebler Toasteds® Sesame crackers (21)
|6 oz. vanilla yogurt (6)|
|Evening Snack Total||75||6|
Who’s Looking Out for Us?
Health authorities have dropped the ball. As a result, no one is paying attention to the oxalates in our food and how the amount we’re eating has been creeping up and up and up. We’re paying a price for our ignorance about what we’re eating.
Don’t wait for some official warning. Oxalate is a toxin. Unlike most environmental poisons, this is one toxin that is within your control to avoid. Don’t let your health depend on a roll of the dice. Get started.
Note: You may have good reasons for avoiding Rice Chex™, Shake ’N Bake™, or other packaged foods (check out my recipes!). The point here is that commonly eaten foods can be very high or very low in oxalate, and nobody is aware of the difference.
*reference http://www.fiveguys.com/-/media/Public-Site/Files/FiveGuysNutrition_Aug2014_CAN_E.ashx (Oxalate estimates are based on tests of Russet / Idaho potatoes and frozen fries performed at the University of Wyoming 2011, and 2015)
ªcalculation based on 86g uncooked weight and average of known tests of buckwheat and buckwheat flour which equal 133 + 270/ 2= 202mg/100g
§based on VP Foundation data published in their Newsletter
Nissa Annakindt says
You really woke me up to the dangers of oxalates with your guest appearance on the Jimmy Moore podcast. I have listened to that podcast 3 times! And I don’t often listen to any podcast more than once. Sad though that some of my favorite foods— tea and chocolate— are on the ‘high’ list. I’m willing to give up spinach and almond products though, as I don’t like them all that much.
Sally K Norton says
How nice of you tell me that this podcast spoke to you! Its always gratifying to hear from listeners. Most of us have an emotional reaction when we first learn about oxalates and the foods that deliver ’em. But, we quickly move on, just happy to know how to feel better. I see that you have a blog. Let me know if I can be of help to you in sharing the news about protecting your health by becoming oxalate-aware. There is a lot of useful stuff on my site, including 3 videos on the results page, and other interviews on the Interviews and Talks page under the about menu. Enjoy your new spinach-free living!
Nissa Annakindt says
I wrote a blog post about what I learned from the podcast: http://nissaketofasting.blogspot.com/2018/08/do-veggies-in-your-keto-diet-put-you-at.html So I hope I am helping to spread the word.
I was wondering if you have read any scientific research about reducing the oxalate level in tea? I have read that pre-steeping your tea bag, discarding the steep water, and then brewing your tea with those same tea bags reduces the caffeine level. I wonder if it reduces the oxalate level as well? I have read one paper on different steeping times https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963632/ which indicates that longer steeping times adds more oxalates, but doesn’t say anything about discarding the initial steep water (and the oxalates that go with it) and re-using the tea leaves. (I’m kind of hooked on tea. And can’t abide coffee.)
Sally K Norton says
Thanks for sharing this information with your readers!
The study you are hoping for on consuming only the second brew and discarding the initial steep has not been done as far as I know. I’ve looked, as I’ve wondered the same thing.
The best alternative is Rooibos tea. Rooibos (red bush tea) is popular in South Africa. It tastes very similar to black tea, but does not contain caffeine. According to testing reported by the VP Foundation in 2010, a cup of Rooibos (brewed for 5 minutes) has only 1 mg of oxalate! That is very low. In comparison, black tea has about 15 – 26 mg per cup or tea bag. Green tea has slightly less (8 -18 mg).
What is your opinion about Rooibos? Could you learn to love it?
Katrina Musch Wiggansd says
I’m so happy that I found your site. I’m learning a lot from your E-mails. For years I thought I was eating healthy. Then about 2 years ago I developed aching joints and muscles. Blood tests could not find anything. My friend sent me an article on palates. I discovered your site and the rest is history. Thanks
I’m wondering if herbal teas are safe? If extracting and distilling herbs and spices effectively removes the fibers to which the oxalates cling (as you have posted elsewhere), is this also true with herbal teas by virtue of using boiling water and removing the leaves? I love my Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat Tea. 🙂
Sally K Norton says
Most herbal teas seem to be very low in oxalate. Throat Coat Tea has not been tested (to my knowledge). But, if I had to guess Throat Coat Tea would have some oxalate because it contains some slippery elm bark, which is very high in oxalate, but mostly insoluble oxalate. Hard to guess on this one, but its probably much less than black tea (which has about 20 mg per cup) and likely as little as 2-3 mg per cup. We wont know until it is tested by a reliable lab.
Thank you! In the time since I posted this question, I started a new blog, thecaringcarnivore.com, which refers to your work. Thanks again. your resources are a constant companion to my daily decision-making regarding diet.
Another question: I believe I went through an “oxalate dump” after five days of quitting all peanut butter and dark chocolate, my comfort foods. I had a raging sore throat that developed into a full-blown sinus cold, and was coughing and hacking for two weeks. Is it possible I had oxalate deposits in my thyroid that were getting removed? Could it explain my very painful throat? I had Hashimoto’s for 30 years concurrent with my fibromyalgia, and the sore throat was a part of the early years of my FMS and hypothyroidism.
Sally K Norton says
Congratulations on creating a blog!
Interesting that it was five days when the dramatic reactions began. This is about the time it takes for the cells to change their “equipment” from holding oxalate to being in a mode for removing it. You are describing an immune attack – perhaps a bit of needed immune system warfare launched on oxalate deposits in the head and throat area. The thyroid gland is a typical site of oxalate accumulation and an important glad to the whole body. I too can imagine that the body would start there. In my case, it was my sinus area that first went into painful inflammation. It caused a deep facial pain at bedtime each night for 3 weeks. That ended my lifetime of sinus infections – have not had one in nearly 9 years now.
Enjoy the healing journey. Thanks for sharing!