A cautionary tale about foods high oxalates
Just a few years ago, my husband and I were doing some restoration in our kitchen and dining area, especially painting. As a result, I was eating “quick foods” daily and quite a lot for weeks on end. One quick food in particular was cocoa-covered almonds. I reasoned with myself that nuts are good for me, plus I was also getting my favorite food on top of it–chocolate in the form of cocoa.
Additionally, I was drinking a lot of black “sun tea” every single day by making it on the back deck every day or two. Black Tea is a high oxalate drink. For weeks, I would also eat a raw spinach salad often to get my greens in. High oxalates. And I would eat very dark chocolate on top of it all as a nice treat. More high oxalates. These were daily and for weeks.
And after several weeks of these daily “convenience foods” and a lot of them all the time, all hell broke loose.
What are oxalates?
Oxalate, aka oxalic acid, is a naturally-occurring and reactive molecular substance found in a variety of foods, especially if the food is related to plants. That can include all seeds and nuts, most greens, many fruits, even chocolate. Even the Vitamin C we supplement with, or the fructose in the fruits we eat, can convert to oxalate! And most of the time, our body does a great job, usually, of ridding our bodies of unneeded oxalate. You have a very good bacteria which will digest it, turn it into something less irritating, and move it out via your stools. In fact, the body does such a good job that you may be the way I was–having never heard of it or any reason to think of it.
How oxalates can wreak havoc
But as happened to me, if your body is not getting rid of the oxalates you are over-consuming in high oxalate foods, you can have problems. And here are some of the symptoms of excess oxalates:
- painful or inflamed joints, similar to fibromyalgia or arthritis
- burning urine flow
- interstitial cystitis, aka burning bladder, often associated with hyperoxaluria (high levels of oxalate in the urine)
- burning bowel movements
- vulvodynia – external female genital pain or irritation
- leaky gut or all sorts of other gut problems
- kidney stones i.e. oxalates combine with calcium to form these
- developmental disorders in children, including autism
- hives (rarer than the above, but what happened to me with huge massive ones–that’s what led me to discover the oxalate issue)
- chelating of toxic metals like mercury
About celery or celery juice and the current hype
It’s been known for decades that celery has many benefits. It’s not a new discovery.
You’ll have individuals mention the good results. They include less acne, softer or healthier skin, detoxing, healing of some conditions. But there are testimonies of stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea that also meant nutrient loss. And there are some who are very suspicious that the celery juice caused a distinct rise in oxalates. Some lists of oxalates say celery is high in oxalates; others say low.
So if you are using celery or celery juice to treat an condition, remember moderation. Just because one type of food has benefit, doesn’t mean it’s the only one to give the same benefit. Be careful. Think moderation. 🙂
I have eaten chocolate, almonds, and nuts for years without an issue. Then I overdid it. So as with goitrogens and any other potentially harmful foods, the key is in moderation. Don’t get in a rut with eating one favorite food constantly.
A nasty pair–oxalate and calcium
When high oxalate foods are combined with calcium rich foods or supplements, you then create oxalate crystals. Picture razor sharp, jagged edges and you have oxalate crystals (see photo), which can cause a lot of pain as they are eliminated via your stools. These nasty crystals can also form in your lungs, or your kidneys, or your joints and bones, or blood vessels, and even your brain. And any of the latter can result in inflammation.
If oxalates combine with iron, you then have oxidative damage, plus your iron levels will go down. There is also some suspicion that excess oxalates can negatively affect your thyroid.
The solution if you have overdone your consumption of oxalates?
Experts state to switch to medium oxalate foods (you’ll begin detoxing the oxalates). Then make your way down to low oxalate foods (when you think you are ready). And avoid the high oxalate foods! The following link has downloadable lists of the content of oxalate in foods: http://www.lowoxalate.info/recipes.html. But these lists always vary. One will say a particular good is low; another will say high. Eek.
Generally, high oxalate foods include
- beet greens
- sweet potatoes
- dried figs
- refried beans
- peanuts and peanut butter
- sesame seeds
- chocolate and cocoa
- green peppers
- whole wheat flour products
- bran and other cereals
- black tea and instant coffee.
A mistake I made: I switched immediately to low oxalate, and the detox was MISERABLE for weeks. Don’t do what I did. Slow down. Start with medium oxalate goods. Let your body take care of it a little at a time. Support your liver and kidneys. It can take many weeks. But more importantly, do your own research!!! This is just my experience and information based on research I did.
UPDATE: I did it to myself again!!
Just three years after I got myself into trouble as explained above, I did it again. I overate high oxalate foods like chocolate, over and over and over. As a result, I found myself with high ferritin, which is a key sign of inflammation and thus low iron. And my particular sign again that my body was trying to get rid of excess oxalates?? Hives. And I had to go through the messy process of detoxing that high oxalate all over again, which isn’t fun. The lesson that is underscored for ME is not to eat the same thing over and over and over, day after week after month, which I tend to do if I like something. Like dark chocolate. 🙂 Moderation is key!
One of many charts about the oxalate content in many foods: http://www.ohf.org/docs/Oxalate2008.pdf
Good overall website about the oxalate issue plus recipes: http://www.lowoxalate.info/
For detailed information on the oxalate problem: http://www.greatplainslaboratory.com/home/span/oxalates.asp
About oxalate-caused vulvodynia: http://thevpfoundation.org/
Oops—oxalates can cause breast cancer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4618885/