and the oxalate controversy rages on……

We got lots of interesting email in response to my rebuttal to the wildly exaggerated and completely undocumented article posted by one “Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist” that tells people not to drink green smoothies and says they can “devastate” your health.

Heidi, a “low oxalate” blogger / site owner wrote a response. I like to look at all viewpoints and appreciate that she listed lower-oxalate greens for those who wish to concern themselves with this issue. She has eliminated some health problems by carefully reducing oxalates for 20 years. Those include turnip and mustard greens, dino kale, curly kale, romaine, cabbage, and collards.

Hopefully Heidi has been creative to keep lots of greens and raw roods in her diet while controlling for oxalates. If not, we eliminate one compound causing a problem and dozens of other compounds desperately needed and hard to find in other sources.

I disagree with Heidi that it’s a good idea to boil greens, as has been passed around the internet as a solution to the “problem.” George Mateljan surveys the literature well and concludes that this does not significantly reduce oxalates. And of course we know boiling destroys most of the food’s other best properties—enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.

I do not disagree that there are a few people who are not metabolizing greens well, and I absolutely agree that improving gut health is key to reversing many conditions. Greens have many critical properties that other foods do not, and these nutritional benefits are desperately needed by virtually everyone. So I’m very reticent to embrace the idea that we eliminate an entire class of foods—or we nuke them to death—because a few people have degenerative gut issues wherein an “anti-nutrient” becomes indigestible and even harmful.

As counterpoint, if you have become alarmed, you owe it to yourself and your health to read another viewpoint. Author Victoria Boutenko, my friend and companion in green crime, has written this extremely detailed, source-rich article on all the research that oxalates are FRIEND RATHER THAN FOE. I covered the more neutral ground of referencing the macro study that concluded the evidence does not support oxalates being harmful, nor does it support that cooking greens neutralizes that compound.

We had a few comments on facebook or on the blog that someone who drinks green smoothies got kidney stones. I know people who eat some whole foods and got cancer, too. It’s a major logical fallacy to leap to the conclusion that because you eat one healthy thing, that healthy thing is causing a disease. Even if you started green smoothies two weeks before you get a kidney stone, that doesn’t mean anything. Kidney stones take a long time to build up before they release and begin to cause pain—and possibly damage. Although I cannot rule out that a nutritious food played a role in oxalates binding to calcium, I think far more likely culprits for the vast majority are long-term indulgence in soda, salty foods, and animal proteins—and low water consumption. Please read George Mateljan’s meticulous reviews of oxalate research and conclusions, and/or Victoria Boutenko’s report below.

Before you change your diet to eliminate or massively reduce the highest micronutrient foods on the planet from your diet, the foods that are the crux of the primate diet worldwide (we share more than 98% of their DNA), you ought to read this documentation suggesting that greens may actually prevent kidney stones. We already know they prevent many, many other modern health risks.

Read Victoria’s report HERE.

Can green smoothies “DEVASTATE” your health?

Sarah the Healthy Home Economist online recently posted an article about how green smoothies can “DEVASTATE” your health.  The content was so unsubstantiated that at first I refused to respond to it. But Amanda said, “She has a big audience and people are freaking out about it.”

Sarah cites the oxalates phenomenon, wherein a natural compound (oxalates) occasionally bind to calcium to cause kidney stones. (She infers, without citing evidence, that other more serious health consequences could also be possible.) Greens have oxalic acid in them. Sarah makes several logic leaps and concludes that no one should be drinking green smoothies.

I’m not going to promote her blog article by pointing to it here. She rates her content for how controversial it is. Controversy generates more readers, I guess. It also has the potential to do harm, if what you’re saying is (a) undocumented, (b) contrary to hundreds of studies about the benefits of greens, and (c) featuring a bizarre and untenable conclusion.

Just because someone posts stuff on the internet does not automatically endow that person with credibility. Her argument locks in on a detail — that greens are high in oxalic acid — and misses the larger picture.

Only one source is listed at the end of her article and none are quoted or referenced. The source is a PhD’s book on oxalates and autism and “chronic disorders,” but she never quotes the author or anyone or anything else, so I’m not sure how many of her claims came from this one guy, or what.

I don’t bet the farm on one book or one source. There are quite a few other sources that show that some of the anti-nutrients in our most nutrition-dense foods, actually work together synergistically for our health, rather than against it. I’ve done quite a few blog series on anti-nutrients such as oxalates, goitrogens, purines, and phytates, concluding that none of the anti-nutrients should generally cause people to avoid foods containing them.

Note that at the end of the article, Sarah says to eat greens, if you like them, but not very much. Always cook them, she says, and eat them with butter.

Wow! Really?

Let me quote Dr. Norman Walker in his book Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices: What’s Missing in Your Body?

“Spinach should never be eaten when cooked unless we are particularly anxious to accumulate oxalic acid crystals in our kidneys with the consequent pain and kidney trouble. When spinach is cooked or canned, the oxalic acid atoms become inorganic as a result of excessive heat and may form oxalic acid crystals in the kidneys.

“When the food is raw, whether whole or in the form of juice, every atom in such food is vital ORGANIC and is replete with enzymes. Therefore, the oxalic acid in our raw vegetables and their juices is organic, and as such is not only beneficial but essential for the physiological functions of the body.

“The oxalic acid in cooked and processed foods, however, is definitely dead, or INORGANIC, and as such is both pernicious and destructive. Oxalic acid readily combines with calcium. If these are both organic, the result is a beneficial constructive combination, as the former helps the digestive assimilation of the latter, at the same time stimulating the peristaltic functions in the body.

“When the oxalic acid has become INORGANIC by cooking or processing the foods that contain it, then this acid forms an interlocking compound with the calcium, even combining with the calcium in other foods eaten during the same meal, destroying the nourishing value of both. This results in such a serious deficiency of calcium that it has been known to cause decomposition of the bones.”

So according to Dr. Walker, what Sarah is telling her readers to do is really terrible advice.

One of my favorite sources is George Mateljan, because his staff, and his book The World’s Healthiest Foods, review and quote a tremendous amount of empirical data before making claims. Each section contains an extensive bibliography, and the conclusions are scientific and objective.

He says that a review of the peer-reviewed research reveals that the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is small and does not outweigh the ability of those foods to contribute significant calcium to the diet, since spinach is rich in calcium.

So, one of the primary recommendations of most the sources I’ve read, to avoid stones forming in the body, is to get plenty of calcium from plant sources.

So, the high calcium content in spinach may actually inhibit the formation of stones, even though spinach is also high in oxalates. This is at least some logic or evidence, then, underpinning my theory that there are far more synergies than we currently know about in whole, raw plant foods leading to their clear, incontrovertible place (based on volumes of published research) as the necessary mainstay in our diet. We know that people the world over who eat mostly whole, raw foods simply don’t get sick. We don’t always know WHY.

So screaming that the sky is falling about one compound—in an entire class of our most nutritious foods—seems not only unwise, but even irresponsible, if you have an audience and give nutrition advice.

The jury is still out on so many of the issues Sarah the Healthy Home Economist takes strong, unilateral stands on. For instance, what really causes oxalic acid buildup. (She quotes ZERO evidence that greens do.) Whether greens are high in oxalates are only ONE issue related to whether they cause kidney stones. What if they also have dozens of other nutrient compounds, and fiber, that PREVENT stones from forming? A relevant example would be Mateljan’s review of the published, peer-reviewed literature on spinach, oxalates, and calcium as mentioned earlier.

After I investigated this issue, I wrote this in Chapter 1 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods:

“The research is not clear that restricting foods such as spinach helps prevent stones in those who have previously had them. Many researchers believe that dietary restriction cannot reduce risk of stone formation. In fact, some foods that were assumed to increase stone formation because of oxalate content (like black tea) have appeared in more recent research to have a preventative effect.

“Further, cooking has a small impact (about 10%) on the oxalate content of foods, with no statistically significant lowering of oxalates following blanching or boiling of greens. It appears that the nutritional advantages of eating raw greens continue to far outweigh any benefit of cooking them.”

And yet, with slim evidence, if any, Sarah says green smoothies can “devastate” your health and advises at the end of the article, “Skip the Green Smoothies!”

She undertakes no discussion of the true baddies that cause kidney stones:

Soft drinks

Sugar

Animal proteins

Salty foods (or any refined salt)

Oxalates in spinach (also strawberries, soy, and many other foods) can be difficult to digest for a tiny percentage of the population who are suffering from a few very rare disorders (absorptive hypercalciuria type II, enteric hyperoxaluria, primary hyperoxaluria). But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. If you don’t have these disorders, and 99+% of those reading this don’t, greens are not just good food—they are powerful good medicine!

Leafy greens are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, and cooking them as Sarah instructs kills 100% of their enzymes, and most of their vitamins and minerals, too.

Sarah the Healthy Home Economist uses hyperbolic words to terrify people that eating nutrient dense foods could kill them, but she cites no research whatsoever. She implies that cases of painful sex are on the rise (where does that data come from? Is there any data?) and that oxalates are a “possible culprit.”

There are no references to check, and the bigger issue to me is, if people develop kidney stones, or crystalline deposits in other parts of the body, are greens the real culprit? How would you isolate that factor? Show me the study that did.

It’s terribly unlikely that greens are why we have lots of kidney stones, since almost nobody in America eats very much green food.

And in addition to thousands of testimonials we’ve received, my own research (175 subjects) shows massive health benefits to the green smoothie habit, as published in my bestselling book, The Green Smoothies Diet. In that research, not one person reported kidney stones as a side effect of starting the daily green-drink habit. And yes, we asked.

Nutritionally, crystalline deposits are likely caused by highly acidic foods, especially salt, and not drinking lots of water.

So let’s minimize or eliminate the baddies, listed above. Let’s eat more of the foods that have been linked by hundreds of studies world-wide, to ideal weight and minimized disease risk.

(Dr. Joel Fuhrman does this best, in Eat to Live, quoting literally hundreds of published studies showing the benefits of eating plant foods. This is highly recommended reading.)

Let’s don’t kill greens with cooking, and slather butter on them.

If you’re worried about oxalates, let’s not “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” because people who don’t metabolize that anti-nutrient well need the nutrition in the leafy greens as much as anyone, if not more. Instead:

Let’s rotate greens, use a wide variety in our green drinks—not just spinach. Amanda says a friend of hers had oxalate issues and one took a calcium-magnesium supplement and the pain went away. Several experts I have read suggest getting more calcium from plant sources.

And, eat some good fats with your green smoothie, like avocado or coconut oil or flax oil, to increase calcium absorption. One of my favorite lunches is a quart of green smoothie, with some homemade guacamole and “corn chips” (organic corn tortillas, quartered with a pizza cutter and broiled on both sides, no oil or salt needed).

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl for Arizona, part 4 of 4

Chris: What’s the best way to combat diarrhea?

GSG: If it’s chronic, it’s likely evidence of a degenerative colon issue. Start getting a probiotic-rich FOOD in your diet every day. (Not just a pill, which is inferior.) For example, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, homemade sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables. Eat whole foods, which have a lot of fiber, as you nurture your digestive tract so it can heal—you are not likely absorbing good nutrition, until you do. Eat a banana every day for the magnesium.

Angela: Is agave as bad as high-fructose corn syrup?

GSG: No. It’s been hyped that way by a few. There may be companies cutting corn syrup into their low-end product (but most don’t). I don’t think it’s really RAW, ever, despite the labels. It’s not a high-nutrition food by any means. I think you should use it very sparingly if at all, because it’s likely that agave’s alleged “low glycemic impact” has been oversold to us, the public. I am not a fan of using less processed, but still concentrated, sweeteners, except on a very limited basis if you feel you need treats and are trying to avoid the worst-of-the-bad villains (HFCS, refined sugar, aspartame). Currently my favorites are stevia (for green smoothies, etc.) and unrefined coconut palm sugar for baking. Agave is a distant third option, along with real maple syrup and raw honey.

O.A. Black: Do oxalates in spinach bind to calcium and cause kidney stones?

GSG:  I have probably been asked this more than 1,000 times in classes and online. I believe the idea that we need to avoid green foods because of one compound in them (which are likely friend rather than foe) may have originated with Sally Fallon. Regardless, it has been passed along and passed along, and I have yet to read any evidence of it. Just claims. At first people would tell me they don’t eat raw spinach–just cook it–because they are terrified of the boogeyman OXALATES. Then people would tell me they won’t eat spinach COOKED, only raw!–because of the same boogeyman. Sigh.

 

 

 

 

the virtues of coconut water

Stacy S., organizer of my San Diego event last week (I will blog about it this week, just waiting for photos), that I should write more about coconut oil. How about the liquid, or water, of the coconut? Thanks for the help on this, Jenny Cook:

It’s an amazing alternative to water – low in calories, zero fat, and lots of naturally occurring nutrition including potassium, magnesium and calcium, fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It rehydrates you 3 times faster than water itself.

It’s a natural sports drink that stands apart from the blue-dye, chemical-sweetener-added competition. It is isotonic and contains more potassium than a banana and the perfect balance of electrolytes.

It has the same osmotic pressure as that of blood plasma, which means it can be safely administered as an intravenous fluid. In fact, it was used during WWII in emergency transfusions to replace blood plasma and save the lives of many wounded soldiers in the Pacific. Coconut water has also been used to treat cholera because of its electrolyte properties. Think of it as your own natural blood transfusion.

Secondly, it’s a very clever, wholly natural sports drink that knocks spots off the factory-created competition. It is isotonic and with more potassium than a banana and the perfect balance of electrolytes. Its just a natural and far more healthy alternative to mainstream sports drinks.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Coconut water is a natural diuretic that helps to dissolve kidney stones. It has oodles of potassium, which helps the body to fight water retention, muscle cramps and heart irregularities.

The calcium in coconut water is an important mineral for bones and teeth. It also plays a role as an electrical conductor in nerves and muscles.

Sodium is also needed in the body to maintain life. This vital electrolyte plays a number of roles to support health and wellness. Potassium and sodium interact electrically within the cells and outside the cells in the blood plasma and this is required for cardiac contractions, skeletal muscle movement and nerve impulses.

Coconut water helps dissolve kidney stones. It’s a natural diuretic, with lots of potassium, which helps the body fight water retention, muscle cramps, and heart irregularities.

It’s calcium rich, supporting strong bones and teeth. The highly bioavailable calcium plays an important role as an electrical conductor in nerves and muscles.

Sodium is an important electrolyte supporting wellness. Potassium and sodium interact electrically within and without cells in the blood plasma, aiding cardiac contractions, skeletal muscle movement and nerve impulses.

Coconut water also has fiber, protein, antioxidants and dozens of other nutrients. It takes 9 months to draw the water up from the earth through the trunk, into the nut and develop. We should appreciate the miracle that is the young coconut.

As more is known in the mainstream about coconut water, it will become harder to obtain. I am already having a hard time buying young coconuts–which are sold as a drink all over Asia, the Pacific, and many other places in the world I have been in the past several years.

I recommend buying cases of canned coconut water and keeping it in your long-term storage for emergencies. It’s a power food. And it has the benefit of tasting lovely. Coconut water is in my Hot Pink Breakfast Smoothie every morning (Ch. 10 of 12 Steps), which may be part of why I suffer from no chronic health conditions at age 44.

Raw green food and kidney stones

I have more requests to address oxalates.

It’s another one of those “they” things: first they tell us greens are good for us, and then they tell us oxalates will cause kidney stones and other problems.   Many people are fearful of kidney stones since they’re not only common (estimates are than 10 to 15 percent of Americans are diagnosed at some point), but also terribly painful.

Here’s the thing: it’s a gross oversimplification to say greens contain oxalates, oxalates cause kidney stones, and so you shouldn’t eat greens.   First of all, calcium is so plentiful and highly bioavailable in greens, and calcium binds to excess oxalates to render them harmless and easily removed from the body.   With all but a few serious health problems where specific nutrients are banned by your doctor, green foods are VITAL and should be eaten DAILY.   Some evidence says BLENDING oxalate-rich foods neutralizes it–voila, green smoothies!)

Foods high in oxalates include soy, beer, wheat, nuts, beets, chocolate, rhubarb, spinach, and strawberries.   I eat wheat, nuts, beets, chocolate, spinach, and strawberries regularly, most of them daily.   But if you have a problem with kidney stone formation, I would address eliminating three deadly S’s rather than greens: SODA, SUGAR, AND SALT.   Those chemically upset your body’s ability to utilize minerals like calcium and magnesium, leading to stones.

I know a schoolteacher who suffered with stones and eventually kidney failure, probably because for 30 years she didn’t want to have to leave her classroom to go to the bathroom, so she avoided drinking water.   Drink LOTS of water to avoid kidney stones!

What my dentist says about whole foods . . . and one really cool testimonial

I went to the dentist for a cleaning yesterday. My friend Craig is my dentist, and before he looked at my (perfect, cavity-free) x-rays, we chatted about life for a while. He is jealous that I can work from home with the freedom to do things with my kids. He said this to me:

“I would love to take a year off like you are doing at the university. And if I did, I’d start a business like what you’re doing with your books and GreenSmoothieGirl. Because people should know something important about their dental health. That is, it doesn’t matter how many carbs you eat. You can eat fruit all day long. It would not affect your teeth at all. What rots your teeth is REFINED carbohydrates. If people would stop eating sugar, they wouldn’t get cavities. But eat the whole grains, fruits, complex carbs–they’re great.”

So mull that over, as I have been. Someone in the dentistry community should be out front telling people that! And today I got this very eye-opening testimonial in an email. Remember my materials on oxalates in Chapter 1 of 12 Steps? This is interesting:

“I have medulary sponge kidney disease that causes me to make kidney stones. My urologist sees me every 6 months to keep an eye on things. I started drinking green smoothies about 5 weeks ago, having 2 a day most days. I lost 6 pounds in 3 weeks, and haven’t gained it back. About 10 days ago I had an ultrasound of my kidneys and 5 days ago I had the usual blood work done. I recently noticed my face (I’m always complimented on my youthful appearance) glowing–and my husband obviously thought so because he reached out to stroke my cheek with the back of his hand. I asked if I had food on my face and he said, “No.” And then he stroked my cheek again.

Back to today’s check-up with my urologist. He was very pleased, saying, “You always have many kidney stones in both kidneys–usually the left has more than the right, but they both have multiple stones. Your scan shows NO stones in the left, and a stone the size of a pin point in the right kidney.” He had to rock the wand forward and back to find it! He said, “You’ve lost weight. You look great! Whatever you’re doing, keep it up! I don’t need to see you for a year.”

Here’s the kicker: in the past he asked me to stay away from “high oxalate” foods such as kale and spinach since my kidney stones are calcium-oxalate stones. But, what greens have I put in my green smoothies? Kale, spinach and beet tops. And I’m better than I’ve been in YEARS AND YEARS, in terms of kidney health.

Go green smoothies!”

–Cindy