I recommend starting with eliminating some of the highest oxalate foods from your diet —the ones that sort of made their way in there without you really wanting them to or the stuff that's there that you just won't really miss.
In the beginning of my low oxalate journey, I was eating spinach just because it was healthy, not because I really enjoyed it. There will likely be foods in this same category for you.
If you start by eliminating chocolate, peanut butter and your other favorite high oxalate foods, that would sort of be like starting a new workout routine by running a marathon instead of just jogging around the block a few times. If you just substitute your salad mix that has spinach, rhubarb and Swiss chard for one that has romaine, arugula, and some cabbage, that's a much easier switch and it's way more likely to get (and keep) the momentum going for you.
After that, you can try and tackle the foods that you do enjoy eating, and look for good substitutions for those. A lot of times people get stuck in this elimination mindset that eventually leads them to a point where there’s little left for them to eat. If you can avoid falling into this trap or catch yourself when you're falling into it and correct course, you'll find the diet a lot easier.
A Low Oxalate Diet is an Opportunity to Try New Foods
Try and think of a low oxalate diet as as an opportunity to try a bunch of new foods — consider reframing the idea of eating less of certain foods into an opportunity to eat more new foods. If you only concern yourself with eating more low oxalate foods, you'll naturally end up eating less high oxalate foods.
Instead of asking yourself, “How many foods do I have to eliminate?”— try and think, “How many new low oxalate foods can I find and try and incorporate into my new diet?” Trying to put a positive spin on things can really go a long way.
New Low Oxalate Foods to Try
Lychees are an often-forgotten fruit that is delicious. They also make a great martini if you're into that sort of thing. All you need is some vodka, pureed leeches, sour mix and a little bit of cranberry juice. Shake it up with some ice and you have a delicious new drink!
You can also try chayote, which is popular in Central and South America. It tastes sort of like a sweet, green butternut squash. There's also a butternut squash sauce that you can use in place of tomato sauce if you're having pasta. It's from Dave's Gourmet, and it's delicious!
Kohlrabi is a green vegetable that is hard to find sometimes if it’s not in season, but it is a potentially new, tasty vegetable that you can mix into your diet as well.
There's also a spice called amchur powder, which is a dried mango powder that is low in oxalate and can be incorporated into your spice blends.
Integrate Changes Over Time
These are all a little more on the obscure side, but I wanted to point them out just to show that there are plenty of options out there, and a low oxalate diet doesn’t have to be as limiting as you think. Just be sure that you make small changes to your diet along the way, and don't try and substitute everything all at once.
If you haven't been this person yourself, everybody knows at least one other person who has started a diet and done a complete overhaul of everything they usually eat, only to fall back into their old habits and old ways of eating within a couple of weeks or months. We don't want that to happen here, so definitely don't try and substitute everything all at once.
Keep in mind that some substitutions might require a few different tries. For me, cutting out spinach and replacing it with other low oxalate greens was no problem since I really wasn't a big fan of spinach in the first place. But for other things like potatoes, finding a substitute, or a lower oxalate variety, has been a little more tricky.
I've tried a lot of other vegetables in place of potatoes, since most varieties are high oxalate, and have finally settled on celery root and turnips as something that I don't really mind instead. I’ve been experimenting with the best way to make these into French fries and keep in the freezer for whenever I feel like having them. I've also made celery root and butternut squash into hashbrowns, which has given me another really good option for breakfast in the morning.
You can experiment with all different kinds of new foods also. There are a lot more options for you out there than you think there might be at first glance, so try not to get overwhelmed, and take it step by step. Eventually you’ll be as comfortable with your new diet as you were with your old one. Try out new stuff whenever you can and try to enjoy the process.
Ideas for Low Oxalate Substitutions
Instead of potatoes or sweet potatoes, you can use celery root, or butternut squash. Instead of your black and green teas, you can use ginger or chamomile tea. There's also a bunch of other herbal teas on the TLO list that you can look into and incorporate into your diet as well. Instead of cloves and cumin, you can use other spices like mace and nigella seeds or black cumin.
(If you're going to try the nigella seed, just make sure you don't end up getting kalonji or kala jeera — which are sometimes also called black cumin. They are a different spice and not low oxalate. The low oxalate black cumin is from the Nigella sativa plant.)
Broccoli rabe is a good substitute for spinach, and sunflower seed butter is good in place of peanut butter. If you're someone who is prone to forming kidney stones, just don’t overdo it with the sunflower seed butter because it does have a lot of purines in it, which can contribute to uric acid stones and indirectly contribute to oxalate stones. As with any dietary change, check with your doctor first.
Instead of black or pinto beans, you can use black-eyed peas, and instead of white beans, you can use chickpeas. Instead of almond milk and other nut milks, you can use coconut milk or regular cows’ milk. The calcium in cows’ milk is good for people who have kidney stones — more on this later.
Instead of blackberries, you can try blueberries, and in place of chocolate, you can use white chocolate. The oxalate in chocolate is concentrated in a different part of the cocoa bean just like it is for the grains or some seeds. To make white chocolate, the cocoa beans are pressed, the cocoa butter comes out, and that's the only part that's used in white chocolate. White chocolate is usually just cocoa butter, sugar, milk and a couple other ingredients, but just double check the ingredients label like you would with anything else. In most cases, white chocolate should be low oxalate.
Instead of cereals like Chex Multi-Bran, you could eat Corn Chex or Rice Chex. Since bran is one of the parts of the grain that has the oxalate concentrated there, bran cereals are more likely to be higher oxalate than the corn or rice versions. Cereals like Shredded Wheat will also have a lot of oxalate, but in place of those you can use something like Cornflakes or Rice Krispies.
One last substitution — instead of French green or ivory white lentils, you can do red lentils instead, which are low in oxalate.