You may have noticed there are plenty of lists out there from all over the place — the University of Michigan, St. Joseph's Healthcare System in Canada, University of Chicago, Harvard University, and the list goes on. There's also one from a group on Facebook called Trying Low Oxalates.
How to Make a Bad Oxalate List
Let me say first that I'm sure that everyone at each of these organizations is lovely and had the best of intentions when they created these lists. They are trying to help people, which is fantastic. But if you look the University of Michigan list, it’s a perfect example of the problem we have in the oxalate world, and why I felt the need to start Low Oxalate Kitchen.
Only Put a Handful of Items On It
It only has about 20 entries, so it's very incomplete. Using a list like this is the best way to run into the same problem I had when I got started — where I stopped eating a bunch of high oxalate foods only to replace them in my diet with other equally high oxalate ones, because those new ones weren't on the list I was following at all, so I didn't know that they were also high.
Don't Distinguish Between Very Obviously Different Foods
This list is also very generalized. It lumps a lot of similar looking foods together like “dark leafy greens”. This isn’t unique to this list at all, but just the example I found — sorry again friends at UM. Putting all of these different foods in one category and calling them all high oxalate is one of the reasons for the restrictive feeling that people get from a low oxalate diet.
Spinach and Swiss chard are leafy greens that are very high in oxalate, so they definitely belong on every high oxalate food list. But there's also plenty of other dark leafy greens that are low oxalate like arugula and broccoli rabe. If you see a list that generalizes like this, it's safe to say that it's at least a little bit unreliable.
Don't Mention How Each Food is Prepared
The St. Joseph’s list is a little bit better than the University of Michigan one, but it does have some issues also. You can see that it has two listings for carrots: raw and cooked. This is a good start, but if you're going to list a cooked food, you should really list how it's cooked, because the method can really affect how much oxalate is left in that food after it's cooked. Ideally, it would say if the carrots were boiled, steamed, roasted or something else.
Leave Out Variations
It also doesn't distinguish between any of the over 4000 kinds of potatoes that there are on this planet. Obviously, you can't test them all, but it's definitely worth checking more than one. Potatoes are generally high oxalate, but there is a wide range of oxalate quantity even just within the category of potatoes, and there are one or two that are actually low oxalate. If you just go went by this list, then you’d have to assume potatoes are just out supposed be out of your diet altogether, but that’s not the case.
You can also see that the list doesn't distinguish between the different types of apples, avocados, dates, etc. There's a bunch of different species of each one of these foods, and they're all also going to vary in their oxalate content, just like potatoes do.
Forget That Ingredients May Vary
If you keep looking through this list, you can see there's a veggie burger listed, and it has 24mg of oxalate. That’s nice that they tested a veggie burger but…which one? Sure, this veggie burger has 24mg, but another brand might have different ingredients and have 100mg or 300mg — and there might even be some out there made from low oxalate vegetables (like this recipe on my site!). As you can see, it's really important that things like veggie burgers have the brand name next to it because without that, this piece of information is not really something that you can use.
What About a Reliable, Complete Oxalate List?
Reliable oxalate lists will have a lot of different entries and a lot of different foods. They'll have different types of the same foods, like I mentioned with the apples and the avocados. They'll have the same foods listed more than once with different cooking methods and will list specific brands like with the veggie burgers. They will also be regularly updated or updated recently.
Trying Low Oxalates List
In my opinion, there's really only two good options for oxalate lists out there. The best one that I found is from the Trying Low Oxalates (TLO) group. It has the most up to date numbers and is by far the most comprehensive. If you want to get a copy of it, you can join their group on Facebook. I would just give it to you here but they don't allow it and it’s way too large to fit here. So to be respectful of that group and the hard work they put into creating and maintaining that list, I’ll just refer you to them. When you join, just follow the directions there and you will be able to access it.
Harvard / University of Chicago Oxalate List
If you don't want to go through the trouble of getting the TLO list, or once you do get it, you're overwhelmed by it, Harvard also has a list that is accurate enough. The University of Chicago uses the Harvard list as well.
Renal dietitian and contributor to The Low Oxalate Kitchen Cookbook, Melanie Betz, has also made the Harvard list easier to follow by standardizing the portion sizes across all the entries. You can find that version on her website or by checking the show notes from Episode 5 of the Low Oxalate Kitchen Podcast.
The Harvard list is good enough if you're not being super strict, but it only has about 600 entries. Just for comparison, the TLO list has over 2500.
You might also find information on the oxalate content of foods from the VP foundation or Autism Oxalate Project — all of the data there is included in the TLO Spreadsheet, including updates from recently tested foods.
How Do I Figure Out What's Going On in the TLO List?
The TLO list is huge, and has a lot of information, so it can be overwhelming at first. If you need help figuring out how to use it, let me know and I'd be happy to help you sort through it. I've also made some simplified versions of the list, condensing the low oxalate vegetables, fruits, and herbs and spices into one-page, printable documents. You can find them here.
Are There Any Good Oxalate Apps?
A quick thought on oxalate apps — they are a great idea, and I’m considering creating one myself, but just remember that an app is only as reliable as the oxalate list or database that the values are being pulled from.
If they are showing you numbers from inaccurate lists, it really doesn’t matter how convenient the app itself is. At the time of writing this, none of them use the TLO list — but if anyone from that group is reading this and you want to create an app using your spreadsheet, please get in touch!