The Oxalate Dirty Dozen, Part 2

As we continue with the foods that I consider to be the “Dirty Dozen” of the oxalate world, let me remind you of the criteria:

  • These foods will all be high in oxalate – although they may not be absolute highest ones on the list. I’m looking more at foods that may constitute a large proportion of the oxalate that could be present in your diet, and that may be affected by typical serving sizes and other factors;
  • They will also be “staple” foods, in either the general population or within a popular way of eating;
  • They may be perceived as “extra healthy”, and so could be the reason why your change in diet isn’t improving your health as you might have expected; and,
  • Finally, these are the “dirtiest” in my opinion, and I’m certainly happy to debate who are the worst of the worst when it comes to oxalate!

With that in mind, let’s get to our last 6 of the Dirty Dozen:

7. Teff
In the gluten free world, teff quickly became the new “in” alternative. People loved the taste – and the fact that it was had a lower glycemic index (due to its high fibre content) than many other grain alternatives also garnered positive attention. People raved about the nutrients teff contains, because of the long list of vitamins and minerals that it contains.

However, a 1/2 cup serving of cooked teff is over 60 mg oxalate; 1/2 cup of the flour can be 130-150 mg. (Note that whole wheat flour only has 40 mg oxalate per 1/2 cup, and white flour just 15 mg. While that won’t make it safe for someone who is gluten intolerant, or who has a diagnosis of allergy or celiac sprue, it does show that eating a gluten free food doesn’t automatically make it better for you.)

Your tasty teff gluten-free wrap? That’s over 40 mg oxalate in each one.

The promotion of teff seems to have been managed in the same way as the promotion of many other “healthy” foods – with a focus on nutrients, but without any consideration of anti-nutrients; in this case, that meant ignoring the oxalate status of this food. If you need to be gluten free for health reasons and thought you’d found the tasty GF alternative of your dreams, now is the time to let that day dream go.

Note that a number of my clients have reduced gluten in an attempt to eat more healthy, and have started to feel worse. This is almost a hallmark of an oxalate problem – because many “healthy” foods are high in oxalate.

8. Swiss Chard
You’ll never know how much it pains me to add this to the Dirty Dozen. My family loved Swiss chard. But there was also a certain sentimental issue for me; as someone who has Swiss citizenship, it was just a fun aspect to eat a veggie where the name included the word “Swiss” in it!

Sadly, this veggie has become another darling in the “green drink” world, yet so many are adding to their toxic load by consuming it. Just 1/2 cup of loosely packed Swiss chard (about 1/2 ounce) is over 170 mg oxalate. Chard is actually higher in oxalate than spinach; the only reason it’s not higher on the list of our Dirty Dozen is that not as many people eat it. But in the vegetarian and vegan world, this veggie is extremely popular.

Think you can dodge a bullet by swapping red chard for green? Think again! Red chard is actually even higher in oxalate, with the same 1/2 cup raw topping out at over 210 mg oxalate.

If you love chard and need a substitute, why not try Dino (also known as Lacinato) kale? This is a good news story – Dino kale has low oxalate and a great nutrient profile. (Avoid the more popular “curly” kale generally; while not as high as other greens like spinach or chard, you are still ratcheting up your oxalate.)

9. Sweet Potato
The favourite of holiday celebrations all over the US, the sweet potato is also another darling of the low carb/ keto world. We’ve been so seduced by the sweet potato, we now find it commonly offered in many restaurants as a french fry alternative – and also promoted as higher in nutrition. Yet just 1/2 cup of this tasty root nets you 70-90 mg oxalate.

Again, you can’t change the colour of your sweet potato and receive your “get out of jail free” card. Just 1/2 cup of baked and mashed purple sweet potato gets you over 250 mg oxalate. (Just a reminder that a “low oxalate” diet is defined as 40-60 mg oxalate per day; so with each serving of purple sweet potato, you are eating 4-6 day’s worth of oxalate.)

What if you’ve fallen in love with baked orange sweet potatoes? Well, you’re in luck; good low carb/ high nutrient options are available in hard squashes. Try baked & mashed butternut! Butternut is very low in oxalate with just over 1 mg oxalate per 1 cup (140g) raw. You can cook that up and enjoy without concern! It’s also lower in carbs, and has that wonderful, bright orange colour. But other squashes may provide you excellent options, with different colours, nutrients and tastes. My new fave squash is kabocha (if you can find it). Pumpkin will often work also for sweet potato recipes.

10. Black beans
With so many people enjoying Mexican style food, and legumes being touted as important vegan protein sources,
black beans have become a common legume in the US and Canadian diets. However, each 1/2 cup is over 70 mg oxalate. And who eats just 1/2 cup of these?

Keep in mind that these aren’t the only high oxalate beans. Other favourites including cannellini, white, Great Northern, pink and pinto are all in the 40-70 mg range per 1/2 cup cooked.

Love your legumes; want to keep them? Bias your diet to the humble black-eyed pea! At just 1mg oxalate per 1/2 cup, they make an amazing substitute for other beans. Another favourite is the red lentil. Again – these little beauties are only about 1 mg oxalate per 1/2 cup cooked. And chickpeas can be turned into all kinds of delicious treats, with chickpea flour now relatively easy to find and buy. I share lots of recipes for lower oxalate legumes on Patreon.

11. Cinnamon
Number 11 of the Oxalate Dirty Dozen is cinnamon. Ground cinnamon has been part of the spice racks of the world for generations, with a central spot in many cuisines. However, it got a big boost when research showed it could support healthy blood sugar. Cinnamon was being added to many things – even places like Starbucks provided it as a topping for our coffee.

People began using cinnamon every day – it was added to smoothies, bread and any dish you could imagine. There was so much cinnamon around, perhaps this was part of why the infamous “cinnamon challenge” got going. Whatever the reason, it turns out that inhaled cinnamon is dangerous! The explanation for that revolved
around cellulose and the impact of cellulose in the lungs. However a single teaspoon of cinnamon can contain up to 40 mg oxalate! And guess what oxalate is associated with? Interestingly enough: asthma.

So what if you want the benefits of cinnamon for blood sugar or even just like the taste? Swap dry cinnamon for dry cinnamon extract. I use this as a one-for-one substitution, which is why dry bulk cinnamon extract is a staple in my kitchen. Note that therapeutic dry extracts will get you the benefits of cinnamon but at less than 1 mg of oxalate per teaspoon of bulk powder. However, some folks don’t get enough cinnamon “bite” that way. You can fix that! Try a drop or two of an essential oil that’s certified safe for internal use.

Another option I’ve tried are liquid extracts. You may have to adjust the liquid in a recipe if you go this route.

12. Russet Potatoes
Number 12 in our Oxalate Dirty Dozen is the ubiquitous Russet potato. Now while the Russet is one of the worst, most potatoes have more oxalate than is good for us on a daily basis. But one baked Russet can be 120 mg oxalate.

Why? The skin!

It turns out that a single potato skin (that favourite late evening indulgence after a night out) is 50 mg oxalate. That’s just the skin; it doesn’t count what you put in your potato skin. If it’s filled with a bean-based chilli, you could be consuming 200+ mg between potato, spices and beans!

The flesh of the potato isn’t low in oxalate either; 1/2 cup of peeled and boiled russet is still 20 mg oxalate. (And while that doesn’t seem too bad – who eats just 1/2 cup of potatoes?)

Having said that, if you want to eat potato, peeled and boiled is best. That allows soluble oxalate in the flesh to move into the cooking water. But you might want a lower oxalate variety than the Russet. Look for red skinned/ white flesh “new” potatoes, which have tested at about half the oxalate level of the Russet. Like a little crunch? We love taking our peeled and boiled potatoes, and then cutting them into small wedges, to fry in butter. You get a little crunch, and what’s tastier than butter with potatoes?

Questions? Comments? You can follow me on Twitter at @LowOxCoach1. You can also join me on Patreon, where you can support my efforts to educate and inform people on oxalate, while learning all about how to replace high oxalate foods in your diet, and regain your health.