They say ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case when trying to assemble the puzzle of healing. While the GAPS diet has drastically improved my autoimmune disease, I know there are still missing pieces in my healing journey. Stomach acid was one. Oxalates are another.
What are Oxalates?
Like phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, plants produce oxalates because they don’t want to be eaten! While these molecules can cause health issues for humans, it actually tears up the teeth of insects which try to eat high oxalate foods.
In a non-leaky human gut, oxalates are degraded by the bacteria oxalobacter formingenes. This prevents the molecules from traveling to the large intestine and being absorbed by body tissues. This person would have low oxalate content in blood and urine samples.
In a leaky gut or when oxalobacter is diminished (by antibiotics, for example), oxalates escape into the bloodstream, damaged body tissues, glands, secretory organs and the brain. Out of place, oxalates impair enzymes, oxidize cell membranes, interferes with nutrient absorption, and can even alter DNA transcription. When oxalates link up with calcium, it forms irritating crystals (kidney stones, for example).
But does a leaky gut really make a difference with oxalate build-up? Yes:
Wow! 1-2% to 50%… that is a huge difference.
Do I need to be concerned about oxalates?
Generally, if you are healthy and have a well-functioning digestive system, you can probably focus on eating a variety of nourishing foods and not worry about oxalates.But you may wish to consider reducing oxalates if you:
have taken antibiotics frequently or for long periods of time
have a leaky gut and food sensitivities/allergies
have any autoimmune issue
have any inflammatory issue like asthma, arthritis or fibromyalgia
have fat maldigestion
are on the autism spectrum or have a brain disorder like A.D.D., depression or dyslexia (Source)
From my research, I’ve discovered that many folks find a low-oxalate diet quickly makes a noticeable difference with autism and arthritis.
High oxalates on a grain free diet
So why am I calling oxalates a grain-free diet trap? When transitioning from meals filled with convenient starches, many folks to into cardiac arrest on their first day of grain-free and scream, “Just give me something bready!!” (*ahem* I may or may not have shared that experience). Then they discover the solution: almond flour and other ground nuts.
Almonds (and most other nut and seeds) are very high in oxalates. To make things worse, we can consume huge amounts of almonds/nuts/seeds when they are ground into flour and baked into a treat. As a matter of fact, a cup of almond flour contains 90 almonds! The same point applies to nut butters (a tablespoon of almond butter contains 6 almonds).
Here’s the deal: almond flour pancakes may taste amazing but they are not essential.We can do grain free without bombarding our bodies with high oxalate foods. This will speed our healing and allow us to look forward to oxalate treats when our guts have sealed.
With that said, here are some popular foods to keep on your oxalate radar:
Common Foods with Medium Oxalates
Fruits: bananas, mandarin oranges, pears, papaya
Vegetables: red potatoes, raw broccoli, boiled carrots, raw collard greens, eggplant, leeks, lima beans, string beans, tomatoes
Grains/Legumes: Lentils, rice, oats, chickpeas
Other: Pumpkin seeds
Common Foods with High/Very High Oxalates
Fruit: berries, persimmons, orange zest (marmalade), lemon zest, lime zest, figs, currants, dates
Vegetables: raw and steamed carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, beets, chard, cooked broccoli, cooked brussels sprouts, cooked cabbage, chili peppers, rhubarb, spinach, peppers, processed tomatoes (canned, sauce or paste)
Grains/Legumes: Most grains and starches (wheat, rye, kamut, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, arrowroot, potato starch, rice flour). Also most beans (black beans, chickpeas, navy beans). All soy products, too (but you are generally avoiding those already… right?) .
Other: Most nuts and seeds, including nut/seed butters and flours (almonds, macadamias, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios). Also: stevia, chocolate, carob, kombucha and chia seeds
(Adapted partly from this chart. You can find a more detailed list there.)