Oxalate is all around us when we shop and eat, found in everything from salads to teas to French fries.
Yet many people are unfamiliar with oxalate and the role it plays in their nutrition every day.
You may have heard about calcium oxalate crystals which form when the calcium-oxalate ratio is out of balance. Or maybe you’ve been advised to avoid oxalate in order to support kidney and urinary tract health. You may be wondering: how is oxalate involved in nutrition? Where does oxalate come from, and how can you avoid it?
We believe that the more information you have about nutrition, oxalate, and kidney health, the better equipped you will be to succeed at oxalate reduction. In this article, we’ll explore how oxalates get to your plates, what happens when you eat them, and the basics of oxalate reduction.
How Does Oxalate Get in Your Food?
Oxalate is the chemical outcome of metabolism in plants. It serves important growth and regulatory functions in plants, and possibly even helps protect them from grazing by herbivores.
Generally speaking, plant oxalate levels are highest in the leaves, second highest in the seeds, and lowest in the stems, as research on spinach, beets, and rhubarb has demonstrated. Research also indicates that oxalate content increases as a plant ripens.
What Happens When You Eat Oxalate?
While oxalate helps determine plant development, it serves no nutritional purpose for your body. Instead, it becomes a waste product that’s disposed of through the kidneys and urinary tract.
Oxalate and Calcium
Although it is a waste product, oxalate can still play a role in your nutrition by interacting with nutrients such as calcium. Oxalate can bind up with calcium to form crystals, which prevents that calcium from being absorbed by the body.
This interaction which prevents the calcium from being absorbed by the body is why oxalate is sometimes referred to as an “anti-nutrient.”
To achieve and maintain a healthy calcium-oxalate ratio, it’s important to get sufficient calcium in your diet while also avoiding excessive oxalate. Look to dairy products such as milk and cheese, or calcium-packed, low-oxalate fruits such as oranges and bananas.
What Foods are Low-Oxalate?
At first, it may seem as if all healthy foods from spinach to avocados are packed with oxalates. However, as you become more practiced in oxalate reduction, you will find that there are many nutritious low-oxalate foods you can count on.
For a start, following a low-oxalate diet doesn’t mean you have to avoid all fruits and vegetables. Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, squash, sweet red peppers, and turnips are just some of the low-oxalate veggies you can eat without worry. Low-oxalate fruits include cranberries, cherries, melons, seedless grapes, peaches, and plums.
Both vegetarians and “meat-eaters” can be conscious of oxalate levels in their protein. Some examples of low-oxalate meats include chicken and turkey. Other protein sources that are low in oxalates are fish and mollusks (such as clams, oysters, and mussels). Red meat is also low in oxalate and can satisfy our iron intake. For vegetarians, a few low-oxalate sources of protein include black-eyed peas, green peas, and flaxseed.
As noted earlier, you can count on dairy to help you achieve a healthy calcium-oxalate balance. Think milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, sour cream and ice cream (in moderation).
Empowering Healthy Choices
We believe that oxalate education is important not only for those looking to promote kidney health and nutrition but also for anyone hoping to become a more informed, health-conscious consumer. The more you know about what’s in your food, the better equipped you will be to make healthy choices, no matter what your personal goals are.
As with any dietary change, it’s important to speak with your doctor about your individual needs and situation.