Have you noticed how popular the green leafy vegetable spinach is among health food advocates? I definitely have.
People everywhere are recommending that we should eat more spinach. It has even become popular to throw spinach into your green smoothie, to juice it, and to include it as a part of a balanced meal. I’m sure most people grew up with parents who were insistent that they finish the spinach on their plates.
This is not surprising because spinach is a popular food with high amounts of iron and other nutrients. In fact, regular consumption of greens (be it spinach, chard, or kale) is almost universally advised to people who want to have overall health or who want to detox.
For the most part, this is good advice when done in moderation, especially for people who suffer from kidney stones or gallbladder problems.
Yet, the practice of drinking raw spinach and other leafy green vegetables in smoothies has become a huge trend in the health food sphere lately. But we should proceed with caution when including spinach, because consuming too much of this leafy green may actually be detrimental to our overall health.
In this case, the negative effects from eating spinach are due to the intake of large amounts of oxalic acid (found at high levels in spinach), which may build up in the body over time.
Oxalates are organic acids that occur naturally in humans, plants, and animals. The amounts of oxalates can be increased in our bodies by the amount of foods we eat containing high levels of oxalates.
Many foods contain oxalates, but leafy greens, such as spinach, contain very large amounts of them. It has been the practice of health practitioners to recommend that people who are prone to kidney stones should be cautious about consuming high oxalate foods. There are also specific, rare conditions in which people should only consume a very low amount of foods containing oxalates. Yet, these are not the only people who need to reconsider eating their spinach.
Research, as well as anecdotal evidence, is beginning to show that consuming large amounts of foods containing high oxalate levels may be contributing to the build-up of oxalate crystals in many different tissues in the body. People with leaky gut syndrome, digestion disorders, or IBS are vulnerable to having high levels of oxalic acid building up in their tissues. This may be the cause of pain and other conditions such as cystic fibrosis, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, and asthma. Even autism has been linked to high oxalate levels.
Therefore, the popular ritual of consuming spinach greens on a daily basis, in smoothie form or as a part of a balanced dinner, is probably not the best practice for people suffering with these and other conditions.
Even if you are not suffering with any of the aforementioned health issues, you may want to reconsider having a daily dose of spinach because the risk remains for these conditions to develop. Suppose you are prescribed antibiotics which diminish the good bacteria in your gut? In this situation, oxalate build-up is likely if you are consuming great amounts of oxalate rich foods and this can lead to the other conditions.
You may be cooking your spinach rather than blending it into a smoothie or eating it raw. It is still important to note that oxalates do not significantly decrease when you cook your spinach. Oxalates are a very stable substance and tend to stay present even after cooking at high temperatures.
You may be curious how you can continue to reap the benefits of spinach and also reduce your risk of developing issues from oxalate build-up…
Well, if you are one of the many people who include green smoothies in your daily health routine, then a good start is to reduce the amount of spinach you are putting into your otherwise healthy drink. This echoes the idea of always doing things in moderation, even healthy things. By simply reducing the amount of oxalate containing foods you eat, you can naturally reduce your oxalate levels. However, if you are already experiencing symptoms of high oxalate levels, it may be necessary to avoid spinach completely.
A great suggestion to lower your oxalate consumption is to opt for greens that are lower in oxalates in your smoothies, juices, salads, and on your dinner plate. Substituting mustard greens, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, and any other green or lettuce that is lower in oxalates may be the perfect way to still get the array of benefits that these foods offer.
In addition to these suggestions, you may be able to increase certain gut flora in your body in order to combat the ill effects of oxalate build-up that may exist. This is especially relevant if you have used antibiotics recently or if you use them regularly. If you have noticed that you are having any of the symptoms mentioned in the earlier part of this article, it may be advisable to begin taking probiotics in order to increase healthy gut flora. These bacteria are usually present in a healthy gut and they help the body’s ability to flush out oxalates naturally.
Other ways to increase the gut flora in your body are through drinking and eating fermented foods. This is an excellent way to increase your overall health and to aid your body in eliminating oxalates. There are many fermented foods that people eat and drink in cultures around the world and the recipes are easy to find. A few examples of fermented foods are kimchi, a fermented cabbage condiment traditionally made in Korea; yogurt, which is a fermented milk dish (most often from dairy but it can be made from plant-based milks as well); and kefir, which is similar to yogurt but it is drinkable and contains even more friendly probiotics. Keep in mind these products are all significantly more beneficial when made at home.
Therefore, it is advisable to take probiotics or include these fermented foods in order to help your body naturally overcome its inability to dispose of excess oxalates. However, an interesting relationship exists between the common probiotic lactobacillus acidophilus (a common strain of probiotic used in probiotic formulas) and oxalates. They are able to help the body to remove oxalates in small amounts, but higher levels of oxalates are actually able to kill off the lactobacillus acidophilus. This is yet another reason that reducing the amount of oxalic acid that you consume is probably the best way to mitigate the build-up in your body, especially in conjunction with other treatments.
We all know that eating vegetables is generally considered a healthy way to obtain necessary nutrients. I doubt there are any nutritionists or health food advocates who would claim otherwise. Yet, it is important to understand there are a wide variety of foods out there and it is important to know the nutrition profile of the foods you eat.
Even when you believe something is healthy, it’s important to remain vigilant and aware about how your individual body reacts to it. Everyone has unique body chemistry. Therefore it is best to properly investigate and research health trends before making changes in your diet.
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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