Oxalate is a just one more thing to watch out for in the human diet.
Oxalate – or oxalic acid – occurs in many healthy foods but is not a required nutrient for humans and too much can lead to kidney stones.
Many foods high in oxalate are also good for you such as leafy greens, many nuts, soy products, legumes, potatoes, beetroot and even tea.
In plants, oxalate helps to get rid of excess calcium by binding with it.
In humans, oxalate is considered an antinutrient, that is, a compound that reduces the absorption of nutrients in the digestive system as it binds with calcium, blocking it from being absorbed.
As it passes through the intestine, oxalate normally leaves the body quite harmlessly.
However, when too much oxalate binds with calcium in the kidneys it can lead to kidney stones.
If you are prone to kidney stones there may be some benefit from a low-oxalate diet, but for most people, the advantages of eating foods high in oxalate outweigh the possibility of kidney damage.
Oxalate poisoning is possible, but extremely rare. A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine reported a case of acute oxalate kidney disease, but the subject in question drank about 4L of iced tea a day and had some underlying medical conditions.
Before medical intervention or drastic changes to your diet, there a few lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the impact of oxalate.
- drinking plenty of water to flush the oxalates out
- consuming more calcium, so the oxalates bind with the calcium in the digestive tract before getting to the kidneys, making it less likely stones will form
- lowering your salt intake as high-salt diets cause more calcium to build in urine, resulting in calcium and oxalate binding together in the kidneys.
If you want to include more calcium in your diet to cancel out the oxalate, it might be easier to combine a food high in oxalate with a calcium-rich food in one meal. For example, a berry smoothie could contain yoghurt, or if using spinach in an Italian dish, don’t feel guilty about adding cheese.
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