Because oxalate is a common component of so many foods, including leafy greens and many other vegetables, it can be difficult to maintain a kidney-friendly low-oxalate diet every day. Spinach, potatoes, and other foods that we once believed were important for any healthy diet must suddenly be avoided to reduce oxalate – it can be confusing and overwhelming for many.
If you’re looking to start or maintain a low-oxalate diet, but are struggling with cutting oxalate-packed vegetables, there are other tools you can turn to. With some simple cooking techniques, you will be able to enjoy your favorite veggies while also reducing the level of oxalate you eat.
Oxalate in Food
Plants are a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, they are also a source of oxalate. To complicate things further, the oxalate distributions within plants tend to be uneven; oxalate is usually more concentrated in the leaves than in the stems.
When we eat oxalate, it becomes a waste product in our bodies. However, that doesn’t mean it has no impact on our nutrition. Oxalate can bind to calcium and other minerals, blocking them from being absorbed by the body and forming microscopic crystals.
How Cooking Can Reduce Oxalate in Your Food
There are a few different cooking methods that you can use to reduce oxalate in the foods that you still want to eat after switching to a low-oxalate diet. The two most common methods are boiling and steaming.
Boiling your vegetables will cause the oxalate to “leach” out of them. Leaching is the extraction of certain materials from a carrier (in this case, your vegetable) into a liquid (the boiling water). A study of this process found that boiling fresh New Zealand grown spinach reduced the amount of soluble oxalate by more than 60%. (Plants carry both soluble and insoluble oxalate; it’s generally harder to reduce insoluble oxalate.) Another study looked at a wider range of vegetables and found that soluble oxalate was noticeably reduced in most of them after boiling.
To leach your leafy greens, you can boil them in water for about 6-10 minutes, depending on the type of green.
Once you have boiled and drained your greens, be sure to season them to taste with your favorite low-oxalate spices.
Steaming is another method of cooking that can be used to reduce the oxalate content in oxalate-packed foods. One study has indicated that steaming is effective on a selection of foods including carrots, green Swiss chard leaves, and spinach.
If you’re looking for the greatest reduction in oxalate, you may want to stick to boiling – depending on the vegetable, boiling has been shown to reduce soluble oxalate content to a greater extent than steaming does. However, that doesn’t mean you need to boil every single meal you eat. With discipline and moderation, steaming can provide an important tool to help reduce your overall oxalate intake.
The Low-Oxalate Diet
With these cooking techniques in your toolset, all it takes is a little effort to manage a nutritious low-oxalate diet. By boiling or steaming your food, you can spend less time worrying about how to stay on the low-oxalate diet and more time enjoying your meals and lifestyle.