How to Use the TLO Spreadsheets

Pondering how to use the TLO Spreadsheets?I know I’ve made a pretty big deal about the importance of joining the Trying Low Oxalates Yahoo group, and laying hands on their spreadsheet, since it is the most accurate and consistently-updated low oxalate food list around. Hopefully you’ve followed my advice (if you haven’t, here are the instructions on how to join), and you have the food list in your hot little hands. But it’s a big list, and some of the terminology can be a bit confusing to someone new to the low oxalate diet game.

Allow me to unconfuse things!

Which file to download

As of this writing, there are four files in the Spreadsheets folder – two Excel spreadsheets, one Word document, and one PDF document. EVERYONE should download the Word document, so they understand where the data has come from and why people can’t just post it out on the web for everyone to see. As for which of the three food lists (“spreadsheets”) you’ll want, it’s mostly a matter of personal preference, and you’re welcome to snag all three to help you make your decision.

The Excel spreadsheet labeled as “with tabs,” simply means that each category of food gets its own tab in the spreadsheet. Thus beverages are on a different tab than fruits, and so on. The other Excel combines all of these tabs into a single tab, so if you want to do any fancy sorting of all of the data at once, then you’ll probably prefer the Excel that is not labeled as having tabs. Finally, there is the PDF version. It will not allow for any sorting the way the Excel versions will, but there’s also zero chance of accidentally typing in a cell or editing the data in any way. So if you’re prone to the occasional fat-fingering of your spreadsheets (like me) you might want to stick with the PDF version. :)

The Headings, and what they mean

At the top of each version of the spreadsheet, you’ll find a header row. Karla (our volunteer moderator who puts these spreadsheets together for us) has kindly made it so that this header appears on every page, no matter which version you use or how far you scroll. But what do these headings mean to you, the low oxalate dieter?

Category

Since the spreadsheet began as the tabbed version, each food tested fell under a category – Baking Items, Fast Food Items, etc. The Category column simply helps us identify the original category into which an item fell.

Level (“Calc Level” in the PDF)

This is for you folks who don’t like counting precise numbers, and prefer a simpler approach to keeping track of your oxalate intake – in two letters or less, the amount of oxalate in the food is summed up. For those of you who prefer numbers, we’ll get to those in a moment. ;) For reference, though, here are the ranges for these two-letter level codes:

VL – Very Low Under 1mg total oxalate per serving
L – Low Between 1.1mg and 4.9mg total oxalate per serving
M – Medium Between 5.0mg and 14.9mg total oxalate per serving
H – High Between 15.0mg and 19.9mg total oxalate per serving
VH – Very High Over 20mg total oxalate per serving

Item

Hopefully this one is somewhat self-explanatory – it’s simply the name of the item that was tested. However, I should note that things are not always listed under what you might expect them to be. For example, if you want to know the amount of oxalates in red lentil beans, and you search the sheet for “red lentils” or “red lentil beans,” you will turn up empty handed. However, if you were to pare that search phrase down to simply “lentil,” you will soon find them listed under “Legumes, Lentils Red, boiled 30 min.” So if you’re searching the sheet and not finding something, try changing or shortening your search term before deciding that it hasn’t been tested yet (more search tips in a moment).

You will also notice that in my lentil example above, the Item name includes the preparation method. While this is not always the case, it is pretty common. This is very helpful in the real-world situation of knowing which way to prepare a food will yield the lowest oxalate content, as many items have been tested both in their raw state, as well as one or more cooked states.

Total Oxalate per 100g

Now we’re getting into the interesting stuff! This is where we see just how oxalate-ridden a food is for the first time. It’s given this way because the lab now uses 100-gram samples of each food tested. All of the other values are calculated based off of this value generated by the lab.

Of course, not every food on the list will have an entry in this column. You see, the original list, which was taken from the VP Foundation’s original Low Oxalate Cookbook, did not give these precise values for the items they had tested. In cases such as these, the other columns of the spreadsheet will still give you clues (like the Level column, for example) about how high a food is in oxalates. However, it should be noted that testing methods have changed over the years, and the more modern method is yielding some results which are significantly different from the original testing method. As I will mention many other times on this site, if you react to a food as though it is high oxalate, your body may be telling you something the spreadsheet can’t!

Total Soluble

This refers to the portion of the total oxalates in the food which are water-soluble. See my article on the Importance of Soluble, Insoluble and Total Oxalate Values for an explanation of the difference between this value and the total value. As with the total oxalate, the soluble value is given on a per-100-gram basis.

Serving Size

This is probably the most important column of the spreadsheet to keep an eye on when determining whether or not an item belongs in your diet. You will note that most serving sizes are very modest; 1/2 cup of grapes, for example or two ounces of sausage. This isn’t done to make you feel deprived; merely to create a minimum serving size that will be useful. If you simply cannot stop yourself at less than a cup of grapes, then so be it. All you need to do in such a case is double the value found in the “Total Oxalate Per Serving” column when doing your calculations!

Weight per Serving Size

For those of us who like to be a bit more precise, this is a great column. Since no two grapes are exactly the same size, we can weigh our grapes and see if a half cup of our Thompson grapes weighs anywhere close to the 1/2 cup serving size mentioned on the spreadsheet. If we discover that our half-cup weighs closer to 150 grams than the 80 grams that are listed, then we know our oxalate intake is likely going to be correspondingly higher.

For folks who don’t like to weigh and measure things, this column will likely seem like overkill and could even be hidden (if you’re using the Excel spreadsheet). However, if you ever wind up having oxalate symptoms, and wonder why, it might be a good idea to come back to this column and make sure that your serving weights are lining up with your serving sizes.

Total Oxalate per Serving (“Calc Oxalate per Serving in the PDF)

The column you’ve all been waiting for! This is the one we generally use for calculating recipes, as well as meal plans. Again, it won’t mean a whole lot to folks who don’t like to count numbers, but it’s another good place to look if you’ve gotten into oxalate trouble and aren’t sure what might have done it. Values given are in milligrams (mg).

For example, say you’ve been able to “get away with” having one or two items which fall into the “Very High” level. Then suddenly you find one to which you react very negatively. Check this column to see why. As you’ll see, a few leaves of raw spinach pack a much heavier wallop than the occasional square of Hershey bar, despite the fact that both of these items fall into the “Very High” level.

Soluble Oxalate per Serving (“Calc Soluble Oxalate per Serving” in the PDF)

As with its counterpart given on a 100-gram basis, this tells you the difference between total and soluble oxalates. It’s just computed at the serving level, so as to make things quicker for you to see at a glance. All values are expressed in milligrams (mg).

Reference

Here you’ll see where the value came from – usually either the Low Oxalate Cookbook 2, the VP Foundation’s newsletter, or the Autism Oxalate Project’s testing values.

Notes

This column contains mostly recommendations for substitutions, if they exist. This can be very useful when converting your family’s favorite recipes over to low oxalate versions!

Searching for your desired item

So you’ve downloaded the spreadsheet, and you understand what all the columns mean. And hey, it’s great that there have been so many items tested…until you actually have to find them! Fear not, gentle reader, for there is a simple way through the madness. Two simple ways, actually. If you’re fond of the keyboard, simply hold down the Ctrl key while hitting the letter “f” (for “find”) and you’ll be ready to search. The cool thing is this works in both the PDF version and the Excel version, although what you do next may be a bit different depending up on which version you’re using. If you prefer to click your way around, you’ll find that there is a blank box at the top of your Adobe Reader (at least, there is if you’re using version 9 or above), like this:

Just click in that box, and start typing to do your search. (by the way, you can click on these images to see them larger. I know they’re pretty small on the page!) In Excel, at least the 2010 version, you’ll have to be on the Home ribbon, and then click on the little down-arrow next to Find & Select. Then you can click on “Find…” to be taken to Excel’s search. See arrows below to help you get to the right place…

If you’re running an older version of Excel, you’ll find “Find” under the Edit dropdown menu (sorry, no screenshot). It’s a bit annoying that this has changed over the years, but the Ctrl-f key command has stayed the same for a couple of decades. See why I prefer key commands? :)

But back to the lesson…once you’ve found your search form and typed in the name of the item you want, just hit enter and, hopefully you’ll be taken right to it, or at least to something with that name. If it’s not the exact item you want (for example, you wanted peanut butter, but it takes you to peanuts instead), it’s always possible to go to the next search result. If you’re searching the PDF, you’ll see two little icons appear next to the search box, like in the below screenshot. Clicking on these will take you to the next or previous instance of your search word, so just keep clicking until you find what you need!

In Excel, you’ll get a popup that looks more like the box shown below. If you’re searching through the Excel file which has all of the values on a single tab, then all you’ll need is the “Find next” button at the bottom in order to move from one instance of your searched word to the next. However, If you’re searching through the “with tabs” version of the Excel, you’ll first need to click on the Options button as indicated by the red arrow below.

Once you’ve opened the options, your Find box will be a bit bigger. Then you’ll need to change the dropdown indicated below from “Sheet” to “Workbook.” Reason being, if you use the default setting of “Sheet,” you’ll only be searching the tab (sheet) you’re currently looking at. Switching to workbook means searching the entire workbook, which will ensure that you find all instances of your search term, regardless of which tab they’re on.

As I mentioned above, if at first you don’t find what you’re looking for…change your search term. Try to go with a single word whenever possible (e.g. “pinto” instead of “pinto beans”), to make sure you don’t miss something because it’s under a slightly different arrangement of words. And if you just can’t find something, feel free to post to the TLO group and ask. If the item has been tested (and is just called something else in the spreadsheet), someone will generally know.

On the flip side, even if the item hasn’t been tested, mentioning it to the group will give folks who may have experimented with the item in question a chance to weigh in on whether or not it caused infraction symptoms for them. And if no one has a clue? Then you’ll still be in the perfect place to have your item added to the list of foods to be tested!

I hope this guide helps you better understand the TLO food list. If you still have any questions, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments. I always appreciate feedback that helps me improve the site!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the page above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. These commissions are what allow me to continue to operate this site with minimal advertising. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe in, and that will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials.”

6 Responses to How to Use the TLO Spreadsheets

  1. Marion Ogg says:

    Hello Michelle
    Thanks for the great site. I’ve been following the LOD for about 6 weeks and have noticed definite improvement in vulvar and bladder pain. The problem is I am losing weight when I don’t want to and I think the reason is the carbohydrate foods I usually are medium to high and I have eliminated most of them. I have been eating oatcakes instead because although I couldn’t find them on the spreadsheets I found another site which said oats were low. However I’ve just found an entry on the spreadsheets for oat cereal which says they are medium. I can’t find a carbohydrate which is low on the yahoo group spreadsheets and wonder what you eat for your carbohydrate intake.
    Sorry this is a bit long-winded. Thank you for all your work with the site.
    Marion

    • admin says:

      Hello again Marion!

      I have two words for you: white rice!

      Actually, there are quite a few good carbs on the low carb diet, but white rice has been my failsafe carb. I know it has tested as having some ox in it, but I’ve eaten as much as a pound a day without running into ox symptoms.

      There are also lots of low ox fruits: several varieties of apples, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, plums, peaches, and the occasional banana (medium).

      Red lentils and black eyed peas are some savory options.

      Also, make sure to get plenty of healthy fats: coconut oil, butter, heavy cream and beef tallow. Avocados count as both fruit and fat in my book, and are low ox as well. Combining fats with your carbs will increase your chances of gaining or at least maintaining your weight, and these are all low ox!

      As for oatcakes, I really don’t know what’s in them, but you’re right about oats being relatively high. That said, if you’re still working on dropping your ox levels (and it sounds like you are if you’re still eating oats), then make sure that dropping oats out of your diet doesn’t trigger excessive dumping.

      Good luck!
      -Michelle

      • Mel says:

        Oats are medium in oxalate, I get Gluten free. I have 1/2 a cup a day and can still stay in my range.

        • Michelle Fields says:

          Hi Mel,

          It is definitely true that it is possible to indulge in most food items in moderation, and still stay low (or lowered) in oxalates.

          However, I am curious as to where you found gluten free oats which are medium in oxalate? According to the latest spreadsheet (dated November 16, 2013), the only gluten-free oats that have been tested were Very High, at 20.79mg of oxalate per half cup. That said, there are several other brands of non-gluten-free oats which have tested at medium per quarter or half cup.

          Please note that I am not questioning what works for you; I simply want to make sure that other visitors to this page realize that what fits into one person’s diet may not fit into theirs, and why.

          Take care,
          Michelle

  2. Caroline Pope says:

    I have RA and Last March I went gluten free which upped the oxalates in my diet. (chocolate, nuts, spinach everyday!) In August I passed a calcium oxalate kidney stone. The month prior to that I had terrible UTI type symptoms and was close to getting an IC diagnosis when I passed that stone. After the stone passed, I did some research and found out about high oxalates. I Knew it had to be my diet! I immediately went cold turkey on the oxalates…eating only medium and low oxalate foods. I also increased my water. I felt better! I had no more vaginal pain, urgency etc.. I also noticed My RA flares were lessened too! I was still occasionally eating GF oats and brown rice, but I went Paleo to see if that reduced my inflammation and I took out all grains, dairy and legumes. I think it did. I found more foods that were problems for me and eliminated them ( nightshades, corn, melons) Now, I have two problems: 1. I am too thin and 2. I recently had chocolate and got a migraine, and my stomach has been upset for 4 days afterwards…is this normal? This is oxalate right? I Need something to put weight on. Can you help? Thank you and thank you for this wonderful site.

    • admin says:

      Hi Caroline!

      Thanks so much for sharing your success story about oxalates! It sounds like you improved by leaps and bounds when you cut them back.

      Now, as to your current dilemmas…

      If you need to gain weight, white rice is very low ox and also very carby, just make sure you mix it with liberal amounts of your favorite fats so that it doesn’t absorb too quickly and spike your blood sugar.

      As for the chocolate/migraine connection, you might want to look into histamines and histamine liberators. I can’t remember off the top of my head which chocolate is (probably both, given its sugar content), but if it gives you a headache, I’d start the search at histamine. Some nightshades (especially tomatoes) are high histamine as well, so it may not be the “nightshade family-ness” of them that gives you problems, but rather the high histamine content. The best site I know of for educating yourself about a low-histamine diet is The Low Histamine Chef. Bonus: the gal who runs the site is also oxalate-aware! That’s not to say that all of her recipes are low oxalate (they aren’t, so you’ll want to do the math before digging in), but she’s at least cognizant of what oxalates are, and some of the horrid effects they can have on us.

      Hope this helps!
      Michelle

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