Oxalates could easily take the trophy for being one of the most misunderstood and disliked compounds found in plant food sources. Associated with many diseases with kidney stones taking the lead, oxalates have been receiving a really bad rap in the world of nutrition science. They have even been labeled as anti-nutrients.
For starters, Oxalic acid is an organic compound found in many foods of plant origin including leafy greens, nuts, legumes, grains and seeds and presents as a salt of oxalic acid. When bound to a mineral it forms an oxalate, for example calcium plus our good friend oxalate forms calcium oxalate.
These highly reactive nutrient villains impede the absorption of minerals by latching onto them. Unfortunately for a majority this leaves the gut defenseless and open for invasions. For a person like this, the oxalates pass through the gut barrier and into the blood stream from where they freely roam around popping into organs at their own leisure. This would be okay because the kidney acts like a clean-up crew which get rid of the extra and unwanted salts through urine. But sometimes, the oxalate concentration goes above the charts and they overwhelm the kidneys. So it stays in.
Subsequently with an oxalate accumulation the body comes up with a coping mechanism to lighten the kidneys’ load by getting some of the body organs to store the oxalates, one of them being the thyroid. This oxalate overload which leads to oxalate sensitivity can present with a cocktail of symptoms affiliated with kidney disorders (kidney stones), thyroid conditions (hyperthyroidism), micronutrient deficiencies and can trigger autoimmune disorders hence causing inflammatory reactions among other conditions.
Here’s what you can do to prevent and to manage a case of the oxalate overload and its consequent disorders.
1. Limit amounts of Oxalate rich foods
Follow a low-oxalate diet. This necessitates a restraint but you can only limit that which you know. First get to know foods rich in oxalates which range from nuts and nut butters, chocolate, buckwheat, bran cereals and whole-wheat products, squash, sweet potatoes and potatoes, beans, green vegetables, egg plants, grapes, many kinds of berries and citrus peels.
Instead, focus on food sources with low to no oxalate concentrations including dairy, bananas, melons, cherries, lean meats, corn-based cereals, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, mushrooms and citrus juices.
2. Increase the calcium in your diet
This may sound like a very contradicting statement owing to the fact that high blood levels of calcium have been associated with kidney stones, but this neat trick uses the oxalates binding characteristic against it. Dietary calcium - which is what we should increase more of - can bind to the oxalate in the digestive tract and keep the oxalates from being absorbed and keeping the stones from forming. Win win.
3. Drink right amount of fluids
Fluids are important as they flash out toxins, waste and excesses of nutrients that would otherwise flood and clog up our system. The goal should be 10-12 glasses of fluid a day with at least 5-8 glasses being water. With regard to oxalates, lemonade has some backing from studies which suggest that the citric acid in lemonade and other citric fruits may be helpful in reducing the risk of calcium oxalate stone formation.
Nutritionist/Dietician, Chiropractic & Physiotheraphy Health Centre.