What You Need to Know about the Oxalates in Your Diet
What do beets, spinach, okra, tofu, raspberries, and navy beans all have in common? Two things — they’re all considered healthy foods, and they’re all high in oxalates (also known as oxalic acid).
Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in plants. Consumed in small amounts, it’s harmless. But ingest too much and you may end up with a bad case of kidney stones, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, or any of a number of other ailments.
The problem is that oxalates bind to minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, forming crystals that can build up in organs and tissues throughout the body. Consumed in moderation, oxalates are flushed from the body as waste products. However, when intake exceeds the body’s ability to eliminate them, they become a threat to your health.
When you’re working toward addressing chronic health issues and adopting a healthy diet is part of your plan of care, keep in mind that even some healthy foods can be unhealthy when consumed in excess. Spinach and almonds are two prime examples. Each have such a stellar reputation as healthy foods, you might think they hired the top PR firm in the country to mold and promote their reputations. What could possibly be unhealthy about a spinach salad or a glass of almond milk?
Sadly, neither of these health foods lives entirely up to the hype. Spinach is loaded with iron and even contains a decent amount of protein, but it’s high in oxalates. Almonds are packed with fiber, protein, healthy fat, vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium, but like spinach, they’re high in oxalates.
In this post, we dig into the potential health issues related to oxalates and explain how to reduce your oxalate load.
Recognizing the Symptoms of High Oxalates
If you research oxalates, you’ll find many articles associating oxalic acid with kidney stones, but oxalic acid crystals can form in tissues and joints throughout the body and cause a wide range of health issues, including the following:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Joint pain
- Kidney stones
- Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), which causes allergic-like reactions
- Muscle pain
- Painful urination
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Ironically, people often encounter problems with oxalates when they’re trying to be healthy. We frequently see patients who try elimination diets, such as a dairy-free or a gluten-free diet. Some overshoot the mark with spinach, kale, and almonds. In their smoothie for instance, they might be adding kale and almond milk daily, in addition to consuming almond butter, almond flour, and lots of salad. The best approach is a moderate one. Don’t overdo a food type on your way to wellness.
Reducing Consumption of High-Oxalate Foods
One of the keys to preventing oxalates from becoming a health problem is to limit your consumption of foods high in oxalates. Here are some foods that are highest in oxalates:
- Beans: Navy beans and black beans are the worst, and other beans may also be relatively high in oxalates
- Berries: Raspberries top the list, and blueberries, black berries, and gooseberries are relatively high in oxalates
- Beverages: Black tea, chocolate drinks (like hot cocoa), soy milk, and nut milks (such as almond milk)
- Fruits: Figs, kiwi, dates, and currants
- Grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, bran, and high-fiber cereals
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and all nut butters
- Soy products: Soy milk, tofu, and other foods made from soybeans
- Vegetables: Leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, and dandelion greens), rhubarb, okra, and baked potatoes (with the skin)
Note that cooking can often reduce a food’s oxalate content, but even when cooked, these foods are still high in oxalates. Not to mention cooking often reduces the nutritional value of these foods.
Opting for Low-Oxalate Foods
If you’re looking for some low-oxalate foods to reduce your oxalate load, here are a few to consider:
- Beverages: Green tea, herbal teas, and apple juice
- Grains: White rice
- Grassfed dairy: Milk, cheese, and butter (yogurt is considered a moderate oxalate food)
- Grassfed meats and wild caught fish: Most meats and fish except processed meats (liver is okay in moderation)
- Nuts and seeds: Cashews, walnuts, and sunflower seeds (all in moderation and better when soaked and rinsed)
- Organic fruits: Avocado, banana, cherries, grapefruit, mangoes, melon, nectarines, papaya, passion fruit
- Vegetables: Cabbage, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, endives, peas, water chestnuts, chives, kohlrabi, and radishes
Do You Need to Be Concerned About Oxalates?
Oxalates aren’t necessarily a cause for alarm. You may be able to eat foods high in oxalates without experiencing any health issues, while someone else — because of how their body processes oxalates — needs to be careful about what they eat. Because of our bio-individuality, our systems handle micronutrients and anti-nutrients differently.
Here at Restoration Healthcare, we can test your oxalate level with an Organic Acid Test (OAT), which is a urine test, or a specialized blood test. If your oxalate level is high and is causing health problems, we have several options to bring your level down, including dietary adjustments and supplements.
Reducing Your Oxalate Load
Most people can avoid health issues related to oxalates by not eating high-oxalate foods in excess. If you’re loading up on high-oxalate foods — for example, a smoothie in the morning made with mostly almond milk, kale, and spinach, and a green leafy salad for lunch — in consultation with your healthcare provider, you may want to gently pivot to replace some of those foods with low-oxalate options.
Another way to reduce your oxalate load is to enhance your body’s ability to flush oxalic acid. Supplements, medications, and treatments that can improve oxalate metabolism, or bind to oxalates to facilitate elimination, include the following:
- Antioxidants, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), glutathione; vitamins A, E, B1, and B6; and probiotics
- Calcium citrate
- Drink enough water (generally about three liters for men and two liters for women daily)
- Epsom salt soaks
- Glutamine to help with gut lining integrity
- Ox bile
These options all play a role in detoxing the body, which must be done gradually and is not necessary for everyone.
One final word of caution: Don’t start any of the supplements, medications, or treatments mentioned above on your own. Self-treatment can cause more harm than good. Get tested first to find out whether your oxalate level is high. If it is high, then seek guidance from a qualified health professional. You may be able to address your issues with some mild to moderate dietary adjustments. If more is required, a slow, medically supervised detox is best.
About the Author: Rebecca Maas, Restoration Healthcare’s heath coach, works with patients — in alliance with our physicians — to restore their vitality and support their own bodies’ ability to heal by using a combination of nutrition, detox, supplementation, and lifestyle interventions. A graduate of UCLA, Rebecca also attended Univ. of Calif-Berkeley and studied Functional Nutrition and Holistic and Herbal Medicine at Natural Healing Institute of Naturopathy in Encinitas, Calif.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about oxalates is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at Restoration Healthcare, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.