Oxalates seem to be the latest buzzword in the nutrition arena. People are curious about this common compound because although it is found in many plant-based foods we consider to be healthy, it may cause trouble for some people. Why? Let’s take a deep dive into oxalates to know if you should avoid them or if the hype about the possible dangers associated with them is overblown.
What are oxalates?
Oxalates (oxalic acid) are a naturally occurring compound found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and cocoa.
Which foods are high in oxalates?
Foods that are high in oxalates include spinach, beets, kale, cocoa powder, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, berries, and turnip greens.
What are the health benefits of foods with oxalates?
Many oxalate-rich foods are full of health-promoting phytonutrients including antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, so can certainly be used as part of a plant-based diet with great benefit for many of us.
What are the problems associated with oxalates?
After eating foods containing oxalates, the compound binds to calcium in the gastrointestinal tract and typically leaves the body in the urine or stool. In some people, however, the calcium oxalates can collect in the kidneys and create kidney stones. There are many types of kidney stones, but calcium oxalate accounts for about 80% of them.
Consuming too many oxalates may contribute to this health problem, however, it’s important to understand that oxalates aren’t the only healthy substance that can turn harmful. In fact, most good-for-you compounds can have negative effects under certain conditions—even water!
How can you avoid consuming too many oxalates?
There are a few very simple ways to reduce your risk of overconsumption. The best approach is to include a wide variety of whole foods in your diet and rotate them often to avoid overconsuming any one element that at some point may go from healthy to harmful. In general, rotating foods more regularly, rather than eating the same foods every day, is the best and safest action for health and vitality.
Cooking plant-based foods is another way to significantly reduce the oxalic acid load. Another method is to eat foods high in oxalates in combination with calcium. Fortunately, there is a significant amount of calcium in many oxalate-rich foods, such as spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, and beet greens.
Should certain people eliminate or limit consumption of oxalates?
It is generally accepted that there is no need to completely avoid oxalates, however, some individuals with kidney problems or gut dysbiosis may benefit from eating them less often and being more conscious of making sure to cook them.
What is a low-oxalate diet?
Here are several tips to keep in mind if a low-oxalate diet is recommended due to kidney stones.
- Consume less than 50mg of oxalates a day.
- Be sure to consume a wide variety of plant-based foods that are lower in oxalates, such as cauliflower, zucchini, and cabbage.
- Boil vegetables to reduce their oxalic acid content by 30%-90%.
- Increase your calcium intake. It may seem counterintuitive but having low levels of calcium increases the risk of developing calcium oxalate kidney stones. Aim for 800–1,200 mg of calcium per day.
- Drink plenty of liquids, about 10-12 glasses of water a day.
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