One of the first questions every low oxalate dieter asks when starting a low oxalate diet is what can I eat? After reading the low oxalate food lists, it’s tempting to think you’ll have to throw out every recipe book you own and start from scratch, but this isn’t true. Many recipes in your collection may already be low or medium oxalate or they can be simply modified to lower the oxalate content. Other recipes may need major revisions. Others are hopeless, but even these may serve as a starting point or catalyst for making up your own recipe. Almost every recipe I use on a regular basis is one I modified from someone else, or one I made up using a high oxalate recipe as an inspiration.
This series is designed to help you gain confidence in modifying your own recipes. It is intended for use by low oxalate dieters, but the principals could be used by any other dieter needing to modify recipes to better fit their health needs. All you need is a fairly current database of oxalate values for foods (see note 1 at bottom) and a recipe. Let’s get started!
Step One: Is This Recipe Low Oxalate?
The first thing to ask about any recipe is whether it is low, medium or high oxalate. There are two ways to do this. The first method is easier and faster, and will work fine if you only need a rough estimate of the oxalate content. The second method takes a little math and a little more time, but it has the advantage of allowing you to calculate a close approximation of the oxalate content of any recipe.
To show you how they work, let’s look at the ingredient list of a yummy, gluten-free appetizer by Elana Amsterdam of Elana’s Pantry (click the recipe title for the whole recipe).
- 1 (1 pound) package white button mushrooms
- 8 ounces goat cheese
- ¼ cup minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- 1 teaspoons minced garlic
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
Method 1: The Guesstimation.
Guess what this method involves? You’re right. Guessing! But it’s educated guessing based on what you know about the oxalate content of each ingredient. To use this method, your recipe has to pass two tests—all ingredients must be low oxalate, very low oxalate or lower medium oxalate AND the recipe cannot contain more than a one serving of low oxalate herbs or spices (since the oxalate content in herbs and spices can really add up fast). To use this method, simply check each ingredient to see whether it is very low oxalate (less than 1 mg. per serving), low oxalate (less than 5 mg. oxalate per serving) or “lower medium” oxalate (5-8mg. oxalate per serving), looking up any ingredient you are unfamiliar with in your database. Here’s the list again with each ingredient marked for oxalate content.
- 1 (1 pound) package white button mushrooms (low)
- 8 ounces goat cheese (low)
- ¼ cup minced parsley (low per 1 tablespoon serving)
- 1 tablespoon minced chives (very low)
- 1 teaspoons minced garlic (very low)
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt (untested*, but regular table salt has no oxalate and this is a simple substitute)
This recipe passes the first test—all ingredients are low or low oxalate (with the substitution of regular table salt). However, it does not pass the second test. Although parsley is low oxalate per serving, this recipe contains four servings of parsley, one serving of chives and one clove of garlic. This means that although all the ingredients are low oxalate, the high amount of herbs might make the recipe medium or even high oxalate per serving.
If your recipe passes both tests, you can feel fairly confident that it is a low or lower medium oxalate food and can be eaten on a low oxalate diet. If it fails one or both of the tests, you need more information. Time for method two!
Method 2: Get Precise
In this method, you calculate the approximate oxalate content of each serving to give you more confidence in your decision whether to eat this food. First, you must calculate the approximate oxalate content of each ingredient on the list. To do this you find out how much oxalate is in one serving of ingredient then multiply by how many servings are in the recipe. For example, parsley has 4.5 mg. oxalate per tablespoon, and the recipe calls for 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup = 4 T), so parsley adds 4.5 X 4 = 18 mg. oxalate to this recipe. Here’s the list again with approximate oxalate contents.
- 1 (1 pound) package white button mushrooms (1 pound is about 450 grams, and there’s 4 mg. oxalate per 100 grams of mushrooms. That makes 4 mg. X 4.5 = 18 mg.)
- 8 ounces goat cheese (low oxalate, but no numbers given)
- ¼ cup minced parsley (4.5 mg. X 4 = 18 mg.)
- 1 tablespoon minced chives (0.1 mg.)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic (0.3 mg. per clove which is probably about a teaspoon)
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt (not tested*, but 0 for table salt)
As you can see, there are two potential problem ingredients. In this case, I feel very confident approximating values. Goat cheese has been tested as low oxalate, but no numbers are given in the database. We also know that evaporated goats milk is very low oxalate at 0.1 mg. per tablespoon, and most cow’s cheeses that have been tested are between 1-4 mg. oxalate per ½ cup serving. I am going to use the value 2.5 mg. per half cup as an approximation and see what happens.
A second potential problem ingredient is Celtic sea salt. Sea salt is an untested ingredient* (see note 2 at bottom), but can easily be substituted with regular table salt and is probably very similar in oxalate content to regular table salt. I’m going to use zero in my calculation, knowing I can make this easy substitution if I feel the need to.
The second step in method two is to add up all the oxalate values (I’m using 5 mg. for 8 ounces of goat cheese since 8 ounces = 2 servings at 2.5/serving).
18 + 5 +18 + 0.1 + 0.3 + 0 = 41.4 mg. oxalate total
The recipe says it will serve 4-6 people. If I divide 41.4 by 6 servings, I get about 7 mg. oxalate per serving.
That’s it! You’ve approximated the oxalate content per serving and can now decide whether to make the recipe as directed or whether to modify it.
According to my calculations, Elana’s Herb Stuffed Mushrooms are probably “lower medium” oxalate, although they only contain low oxalate ingredients. Also, remember I used an approximation for goat cheese, so this number may be a little lower or higher. It is probably safe to think of these as having somewhere between 6 and 8 mg. oxalate per serving, knowing that you may be wrong. If you are very strict about your oxalate content, you would probably want to avoid herbed stuffed mushrooms or modify this recipe. If you are not as strict, these may be something you could eat in moderation.
I personally think of herbed stuffed mushrooms as a food I can taste but should eat with caution. I made them as an appetizer for my birthday two weeks ago, and my friends all gave them a big two thumbs up! I popped two into my mouth during the course of the party (about half a serving). I also loved them, but I thought they might be a little “herby” for my taste. This means there’s definitely room for modification by lowering the herb content, which I probably will do the next time I make them. (See Tips for Using Herbs and Spices to get the most out of the herbs you use in your recipes.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning the first step in how I modify recipes for the low oxalate diet. In the next installment of this series, I’ll discuss the next step in making modifications. Some modifications (like table salt for sea salt and decreasing the amount of herbs) are pretty easy. Others can be quite challenging. Stay tuned!
Do you have other rules of thumb you use to test recipes for oxalate content? Do you automatically avoid untested ingredients? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!
Note 1: The two most reliable sources for the oxalate contents of foods, available as of October, 2011, are the Low Oxalate Cookbook Two published by the Vulvar Pain Foundation (along with its addendums published in the Vulvar Pain Foundations Newsletters) and the Consolidated Oxalate Spreadsheet, available in the file section when you join the Yahoo group “Trying Low Oxalates,” which is monitored by oxalate researcher, Susan Owens, part of the Autism Research Institute’s Autism Oxalate Project.
Note 2: (Nov. 10, 2011) Since writing this post I have learned that Selina Naturally, Light Grey Celtic Sea Salt has 0.10 mg. oxalate per 1/4 teaspoon.