Why Should I Care About Oxalates?
- By: Lauren Bruun
- Nutrition Detox
- March 7, 2021
- 4 Min read
Our kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, located below the rib cage and on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter and purify over 50 gallons of fluid every day. They remove toxins from the blood, help balance our electrolyte levels, produce hormones that control blood pressure, and help regulate red blood cell production. They’re critical organs that are vulnerable to a number of conditions, including kidney stones.
If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, you know how painful that can be. This intense pain can be debilitating. There are a few causes of kidney stones. One cause is accumulation of minerals like calcium and salts into painful pebbles that can’t easily pass through the ureter. Numerous techniques exist for removing or destroying kidney stones, but for some people, they can be a more chronic issue. It is estimated that one in 10 people will deal with a painful kidney stone at some point in their life. For many people, kidney stones are recurrent. Prevention of kidney stones then becomes the best way to address them, and to do that requires us to get an understanding of how certain chemicals and chemical compounds, like oxalates, found in our foods encourage kidney stones to form.
Oxalates are natural compounds found in many plant-based foods. They are an antinutrient, which means they have no nutritional value, and when consumed, bind to other minerals preventing the body from absorbing what it needs. These tiny molecules are highly reactive and can be extremely troublesome for many people. A diet that’s high in oxalates and low in calcium, is a primary risk factor for kidney stones. New research demonstrates the importance of consuming calcium-rich foods along with oxalate-rich foods to reduce oxalate exposure and damage to the kidneys. When enough calcium is present, it binds to the oxalates and escorts it out as waste. When there is a low intake of calcium and a high intake of oxalates, there is an increased risk of the oxalates accumulating within the kidneys, leading to the formation of kidney stones.
What are the symptoms of oxalate kidney stones?
Kidney stones are often tiny. They may not cause problems until they move through your urinary tract. The pain caused by a kidney stone can be excruciating.
Primary symptoms of oxalate stones include:
|• Pain while urinating
• Bloody urine—may pink, brown or red
• Cloudy urine
• Intense pain in the side and back
• Pain may be sharp and stabbing
|• Pain may come in waves
• Constant, urgent need to urinate
• Nausea, vomiting
• Chills, fever
• foul-smelling urine
Kidney stones from oxalates can have different combinations of these symptoms.
Although the immediate impulse might be to remove oxalate-rich foods from the diet, this is also problematic. Oxalates are in many plant-based foods that are nutrient dense, full of fiber, and relatively low in calories. These types of healthy foods are staples in healthy diets important for overall good health, yet for some, excess oxalates will lead to kidney stones.
Common oxalate-rich foods include:
Research suggests consuming high-oxalate foods in moderation is unlikely to cause adverse effects. Consuming foods high in calcium along with oxalate-rich foods is one great way to reduce your chances of a kidney stone. For those dealing with kidney stones and oxalate accumulation, following a low-oxalate diet for a few weeks may be beneficial initially but is not recommended long term, as oxalate-rich foods are needed for a balanced diet.
Here are some other ways you can reduce your oxalate levels:
- Stay hydrated. Consuming ample amounts of water is the best thing you can do to prevent kidney stones. Proper hydration can help flush out the kidneys and urinary tract, preventing accumulation or buildup of oxalates and stones.
- Be aware of how much protein you eat. High-protein foods are associated with kidney stone formation. Aim for 15-25g of protein per meal.
- Get most of your calcium from the foods you eat. Unless you’ve been instructed by a doctor to take a daily calcium supplement, do your best to consume calcium-rich foods such as, wild-caught sardines, grass-fed kefir, yogurt and cheese, and sprouted almonds. Aim for 2-3 servings of calcium-rich foods per day.
- Reduce your table salt intake. Regular table salt is unhealthy for many reasons and has been known to lead to an increased risk of kidney stones. Instead, choose Pink Himalayan Sea Salt or Celtic Sea Salt for optimal health benefits.
- Soak or cook oxalate-rich foods. Boiling and steaming is a cooking method to reduce oxalates and other anti-nutrients. Soaking grains and legumes for a minimum of 12 hours is another way to decrease the amount of oxalates.
It is always important to listen to your body and better understand your symptoms. Working with your doctor or a health coach is an effective way to identify root causation of your health concerns or symptoms.