Importance of Soluble, Insoluble and Total Oxalate Values

The TLO Group oxalate spreadsheets list oxalate values for many items in terms of both soluble oxalates and total oxalates. But what is the difference between these two values, and why is it important?

Soluble compounds in tea, including oxalate, leach into the water from the tea leaves, and give it a distinctive flavor

Soluble Oxalates

Without going into the chemistry of it, it might be easier to think of “soluble oxalates” as “water-soluble oxalates.” Simply put, soluble oxalates are the oxalate compounds in a food (such as oxalic acid) which are capable of dissolving in water. It might help if you think of it in terms of tea; it’s the soluble compounds in tea (including oxalate, ironically enough) which leach into the water from the tea leaves, and give it a distinctive flavor.

Soluble oxalates are considered to be more bioavailable (more easily absorbed by the gut), and as such more detrimental. And studies have definitely shown that when foods with higher quantities of soluble oxalates are eaten, more oxalates are absorbed (and subsequently excreted – reference here). So for anyone trying to lower the oxalates in a diet, the amount of soluble oxalates in a food is important to know.

Insoluble Oxalates

Since soluble oxalates can dissolve in water, it is only logical that insoluble oxalates do not. While this may seem like a good thing, it can work against us in some very important ways. For one thing, it means that boiling will not reduce the amount of insoluble oxalate in a given food. And while some sources contend that insoluble oxalates are not absorbed by a healthy gut, many individuals on the low oxalate diet are saddled with a leaky gut. Alas, once the gut becomes leaky, all bets are off; it is entirely possible that both soluble and insoluble oxalates will pass through the membrane of a damaged gut wall.

Of course, even in a healthy gut, insoluble oxalates are acknowledged to cause irritation, as mentioned in this study. Since irritation (and the inflammation it can cause) can contribute to the damage which results in a leaky gut, oxalate itself could conceivably be a cause, or at least a contributing factor, in the development of a leaky gut. This makes it easy to see why a diet that is high in oxalates, such as the Standard American Diet, would be detrimental to overall health. This is also one reason why kidney stones made of calcium oxalate are such a problem; once the calcium oxalate compound has formed, it is no longer soluble in water. So if you’ve already formed the stone, you’re not going to be able to dissolve it no matter how much water you drink.

Why Soluble vs. Insoluble is Important

There are several reasons why one might want to know the amount of soluble vs. insoluble oxalates in a food. For example; a food which has a high level of soluble oxalate might have its oxalate content easily lowered by boiling (although the only way to know for certain is to have the food tested after boiling). In addition, soluble oxalates can tie up dietary (or supplement-sourced) minerals. This is why on the TLO group it is recommended to take calcium with or before meals; the hope is that the calcium will bind the soluble oxalates in the gut, rather than allowing them to be absorbed. Of course, binding them is still no guarantee that they won’t pass through the intestinal wall, but at least if they are already bound to a mineral they will not then be mopping up essential minerals in the bloodstream.

Total Oxalates – The Most Important Number of All

Here’s the most important thing to remember, though: when calculating your daily oxalate intake (or guesstimating, if you prefer that method :) ), always make sure to use the total oxalate per serving column (when available). Why? Simply put, since we don’t know how much insoluble oxalate is absorbed, and we don’t yet know what its precise effects are on the body, it is always better to err on the side of safety. There have been plenty of reports on the group of folks reacting to foods which have very little soluble oxalate, so chances are quite high that this oxalate is absorbed and affects the body in some way.

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6 Responses to Importance of Soluble, Insoluble and Total Oxalate Values

  1. Bernadette says:

    This website is a FANTASTIC resource and complement to the work of the Trying_Low_Oxalates Yahoo group! VERY MANY THANKS to everyone who contributes to these pages!!!!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Bernadette! So far it is only me (Michelle) who has contributed, but I hope that others will join in the fun someday. :)

  2. shirah bell says:

    I noticed an add for chia seed bars. Are chia seeds low in oxalates? I read somewhere that they are high.

    • Michelle Fields says:

      Hi Shirah,

      Wherever you read that chia seeds are high in oxalates, it was correct! Like most seeds and nuts, they are extremely high in oxalates. Notable exceptions are flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and chestnuts.

      Best regards,

  3. Ashley says:

    Hi! Thank you SO much for this site and Sharing your wealth of knowledge. My husband has been battling with a real allergy to oxalates for over 5yrs now…we just recently found a Chiropractor who has the technology to test for these and repair the allergy!! My husband had his “allergy” removed in just 3 treatments. :) It has helped alot, along with removing most oxalates from his diet over the last month. Now we are going back into reintroducing minimal-low oxalates back into the diet, and could really use some direction. We were advised to go back in very slow, allowing the body to heal itself from the years of being on severe allergy/over-sensistivity mode from these oxalates. – His issue with the oxalates manifests through severe tingling/itching/prickly pain in his skin. ….the symptoms are trying to rise back when he eats oxalate rich foods, even with taking the calcium/magn and pro-b’s.

    I am a bit frustrated as I am trying to an him out a new very low oxalate diet for the next month, and every chart/spreadsheet/website I go too has such conflicting information. :(

    Do you have any reliable data, especially concerning the soluble amounts of specific foods? We are also dairy free, and grain free except rice, which seems to make this a bit harder to map out.

    I have the Yahoo groups spreadsheet, and I find it helpful, but all my compiled info is SO confusing. And I just want to help my husband navigate successfully through this oxalate insanity!!

    I am also doing this with him, and have felt much better in my body since eliminating all the med-high offenders. We are looking for lifetime change, over all health. :)

    Any advise you have would be greatly appreciated!

    Ashley Chila

    • Michelle Fields says:

      Hi Ashley,

      Congratulations on taking these steps to improve your health and your husband’s! And thank you for the kind words about my site.

      If you have the list from the Yahoo group, that is the best one I know of. While no list is 100% complete or accurate, there are hundreds of people on that list who find it to be the most reliable, and literally live by it – myself included. So what I would do is simply use that one list, and disregard any other, conflicting information you have found.

      That said, if you find your husband reacting to a food that has tested as low oxalate, by no means should you disregard that reaction. While it may or may not be the oxalates in the food to which he’s reacting, he would obviously still want to avoid that food. For example, I started reacting poorly to coffee around the time I started the LOD; while coffee is a low oxalate food, I eventually determined it was the caffeine that was at the root of my trouble, and thereafter avoided that with ease.

      One thing that many who have gone low ox have found, is that they will begin reacting in a much more clear-cut way to oxalates after they’ve lowered them, than they ever did before discovering the low oxalate diet. While I’ve heard no especially convincing explanation of why this happens, it has certainly been the experience of enough people that it would seem likely to be what is happening for your husband as well.

      Best of health to you and your husband!

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