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OXALATES: Do we REALLY need to stop eating spinach?

healthy eating oxalates
oxalates, spinach

By Karen Urbanek, HHP, Course-Creator, Author

If you've heard of oxalate-sensitivity, you've probably heard that spinach, kale, & oxalate-containing foods are the enemy! 

Does that mean they should be eliminated from a healthy diet??

My goodness no -- at least not for long! While certain articles and "experts" may tell you they should be avoided for good if you have an oxalate sensitivity, there are some points they may not be sharing about the main cause of high oxalate levels and oxalate issues. 

Easy science: An oxalate is a naturally occurring molecule found in plants and humans. Oxalates are a highly reactive compound that is attracted to positively charged minerals such as calcium and iron, thus forming calcium oxalate and iron oxalate. 

In plants, oxalate helps to eliminate extra calcium from the plant by binding with it and removing it from the plant. This is why many of the high-oxalate foods are plants, HOWEVER – and a BIG HOWEVER - is that there are many reasons one may have an oxalate issue or be having reactions to higher oxalate foods. 

When we consume oxalate rich foods, oxalates travel through our digestive tract binding with calcium. These sharp tiny bound crystals are easily consumed by the beneficial intestinal microbiota which then eliminate it via the stool. Oxalate consumption is normally not an issue, however, when the digestive track is already inflamed from food allergies, or damaged due to leaky gut or the presence of chemicals (glyphosate, antibiotics, lectins and phytates (gluten)) then one may have an issue! 

A Damaged Gut Lining Actually Increases Absorption of Oxalates. 

So, just to make sure you are with me, if you already have food allergies and have ignored them because you do not wish to give up your fav foods, have leaky gut resulting from poor diet and/or antibiotic and medication intake, have enjoyed the treated (glyphosate (Roundup), pesticide, herbicide, and insecticide) GMO foods because you feel organic is simply for the nutty hippie folks like me, drink alcohol OR have any one of the many gastrointestinal issues, then THAT is most likely the reason you are having issues with oxalates! 

For heaven’s sake do not blame the beautiful spinach which is LOADED with Vitamins A, K, C, B- 6, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron AND Potassium! (and a bunch more – but spinach is super high in these alone!) 

Now, I know you are excited for the spinach smoothie all those articles told you to not drink, but you may want to avoid spinach JUST for the time being.... until you fix up the gut. ☺ 

See, it’s not just plants that cause oxalate issues. There are many other causes of high oxalate levels in the body: 

  • Having taken antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the healthy bacteria in your gut which help regulate oxalates 
  • Chronic digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may increase oxalate levels 
  • Eating too much fat as fat binds to calcium, and calcium binds to oxalates. Some experts believe when calcium is bound with the fat you eat, oxalates get into the blood and tissues 
  • Living with chronic stress 
  • Diets with sugar and refined grain damage the healthy intestinal bacteria which keep oxalates in check 
  • Diabetes or obesity 
  • If a high level of the parathyroid hormone is present or if you suffer with hyperparathyroidism 
  • A Kidney disorder or Dent disease 
  • If you have had Gastric bypass surgery for weight loss 
  • A high intake of vitamin C rich foods or vitamin C, as Vitamin C converts to Oxalate 

So for whatever reason you checked above that you have high oxalates, please know that high oxalate levels can cause: kidney stones, UTI’s and urinary tract issues, inflammation, autoimmune disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, mitochondrial dysfunction, mineral imbalance, upset connective tissue integrity, cause or worsen autism, candida overgrowth, fibromyalgia, thyroid issues, ongoing iron issues, poor gut function, and joint pain. As those oxalates are tiny sharp crystals, they can damage the blood vessels and cause circulatory issues, they can damage the glands and cause hormonal issues, and they can damage the nerves, causing neurological issues. 

As all of the oxalates need to leave the body via the urine or stool, when too many oxalates are being dumped through the kidneys then kidney stones can form. Calcium oxalate kidney stones are the #1 cause of kidney stones in the U.S. and can cause UTI'S as well. 

The main symptoms of calcium oxalate crystals in your urine are: pain in your side and back (this may be intense or come in waves), pain when you urinate, bloody or cloudy urine, foul smelling urine, nausea and vomiting, a constant need to urinate, and sometimes a fever and chills, if you have an infection. 

If you feel your health may be compromised by high oxalates, you may want to limit high- oxalate foods: 

  • Beans 
  • Beer 
  • Beets and beet greens 
  • Blackberries 
  • Black beans 
  • Black tea 
  • Buckwheat 
  • Chocolate 
  • Coffee 
  • Cranberries 
  • Dark green vegetables 
  • Figs 
  • French fries 
  • Kiwi 
  • Oranges 
  • Peanuts, most nuts and nut butters 
  • Quinoa 
  • Potatoes and Potato chips 
  • Rhubarb 
  • Soda (especially colas) 
  • Soy beans 
  • Soy milk 
  • Spinach (sniff sniff) 
  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Tofu 
  • Wheat bran and wheat bran flakes 

How can you reduce oxalate levels? Happy news! You may cook and even boil your veggies! This can reduce anywhere from 30 to 90% of the oxalate content. (A FAVORITE meal of ours is to sauté spinach and add a few sundried tomatoes in olive oil and non-fortified nutritional yeast – yum!) You can also take calcium citrate and magnesium citrate with every meal. Use bitters prior to eating or take B6 to stimulate digestive and enzyme production. If you feel Oxalates have been a major factor, consider getting an Organic Acids test done and read by a professional. 

There you have it! Heal the gut – HEAL-THY LIFE! 

Always the best – Karen Urbanek HHP, TNC, MOM

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