Starting a Low Oxalate Diet (LOD) can be overwhelming, but don't worry, we are here to help! There are a few things that I've learned over the years that have made my life a lot easier when it comes to following a LOD, and it is my goal to share them here and in future posts. Lets jump right in!
Step One: Take a Deep Breath!
And make sure you do it into your belly! Trying to relax by taking a deep breath into your chest is about as useful as lowering your oxalate intake by eating only spinach and almond milk smoothies. (For those that are new to a LOD, spinach and almonds are two of the highest oxalate foods there are.)
Sarcasm aside, it is important to realize that there is a lot of information out there, so at first it may seem like too much to handle. I will attempt to organize all of the useful information for you here, and simplify it, so your head doesn't feel so much like its going to explode. Take things one step at a time, and don't try to learn everything there is to learn all at once.
Step Two: Choose Your Oxalate List
There are a lot of Oxalate Lists out there, but many of them are outdated and oversimplified. If you see a list that labels all "leafy green vegetables" as high oxalate, stay away from it. Oxalate levels can differ immensely even between different varieties of the same food, so to throw a bunch of different foods into one category like that is not only objectively wrong, it's kind of irresponsible on the part of whoever is supplying that information. For example, Roma tomatoes have about four times the amount of oxalates as Garden Peach tomatoes. Examples like this are a dime a dozen, so if you see somewhere that all bread is high oxalate, or that all bread is low oxalate, stay far away!
The list I use is from the Facebook/Yahoo group Trying Low Oxalates. It's run by Susan Owens, who has been researching oxalates for quite some time. Her and her team have taken the time to carefully assemble a spreadsheet with the oxalate levels of thousands of food items. They've already sifted through all the bad lists, taken the good information, left the bad, and also have had a bunch of items tested themselves. From my point of view, their list seems to be the most comprehensive and up to date. To get the list, you will have to join their Facebook group, and then navigate your way to the spreadsheet once you get there. The rules they have for getting are always changing, so give it a whirl and if you run into some trouble, send me a message and I will see if I can help out.
Step Three: Take Your Time
If you are going to try and stick to a Low Oxalate Diet, I do not recommend jumping in and trying to change everything all at once. Start by making one small change, and going from there. Depending on your reason for trying a LOD, there is some evidence out there to suggest that reducing your oxalate intake too quickly may cause more unwanted health issues. I have no experience personally with this, but if you search for "oxalate dumping" in the Trying Low Oxalates Facebook group, you will find stories of people who do. It definitely does not affect everyone, but either way you look at it, starting slow is a good idea. Making a bunch of dietary changes all at once is unsustainable 99 times out of 100, and chances are if you are giving this diet a go, it is wise to make to sure you do everything you can to stick to it.
Start with the low hanging fruit. Look over the spreadsheet and see if there are any foods that you could easily do without that are very high in oxalates. For me, spinach was something I would eat just because it was healthy, but I did not really enjoy it, so it was easy to just eliminate it. You could also find a substitute for some of the high oxalate foods in your diet. Try swapping out broccoli rabe for the spinach, or blueberries instead of blackberries.
Step Four: Keep Notes and a Menu
Trying to remember the oxalate content of every food thats out there is probably impossible - if you were able to figure this out please let me know how you did it. Keep a running list of the foods you know you can and can't eat so you don't have to open up the spreadsheet and search for each one every time you want to eat. I have also found it helpful to keep a menu of meals/snacks that I can eat. You can do this in either written or picture form, whichever works for you.
If it helps, you can also download our Herb and Spice List from the Resources section for quick reference. A current version of my Menu is also available there if you want to see an example of what one might look like.
Let me know below if you have any questions, and I will do my best to help out!