If you’ve read the article circulating lately about the inherent dangers of drinking large quantities of green smoothies or eating large quantities of raw greens, you might be wondering if green smoothies are really hazardous to your health, and what you should do about it.
While many people have been drinking green smoothies daily for years without any challenges and plenty of health benefits, it’s wise to be mindful of all potential risks when you’re exploring the realm of personal health and well-being.
The argument presented in the recent article “How Green Smoothies Can Devastate your Health”
is that greens contain a chemical compound called oxalic acid, or oxalates. These compounds bind with calcium in the body, and form stones, that can deposit in your kidneys, joints, or even other areas of the body. In many of these articles, people say that eating or drinking large quantities of oxalates in the diet from greens promote the formation of kidney stones in those who are predisposed to their development, and some even perpetuate that it can cause arthritic pain and deposits, and deposits anywhere in the body in anyone, even those not predisposed to stones.
There are overwhelming numbers of people who have found relief by adding in a green smoothie to their daily routine. Many fruits, veggies, herbs and superfoods have anti-inflammatory properties that can actually ease joint pain and calm inflammation.
So what are Oxalates?
Oxalates are organic compounds that are found in humans, animals and plants. These compounds are always present in the human body. Our bodies convert other substances, like vitamin C into oxalates on a regular basis. When oxalates bind to other organic substances like calcium, sodium or potassium, this is when they start to become a problem.
Now, before we go any farther with this, I want to first take a moment to just think critically about these statements. Does it really feel true that greens could be dangerous for our health, and something that we should take care to limit or avoid altogether?
It is true that those who are prone to developing kidney stones could be putting themselves at an increased risk of developing stones if they ate nothing but spinach or chard all day. People run into trouble when oxalates bind with calcium in the body, which then will form stones that can deposit in the kidneys. When one takes in larger doses of calcium in the diet however, this actually has a preventive effect, because the calcium will help block the body from absorbing the oxalates and forming stones, and will instead help to usher it out of the body.
It’s been shown that those who are predisposed to stones may not be helped by lowering oxalate containing foods – which would mean that it is not really dietary oxalates that are the problem in the first place, but can benefit from increasing their intake of calcium, fiber and water which all help to lessen the rate at which our bodies are able to absorb oxalates in the first place in order to prevent kidney and other stones. Source
This is really only something to take note of if you are someone who is prone to developing stones in the first place, and this represents a small percentage of people. For everyone else, as long as your body is efficient at metabolizing fats, you really should not have an issue with oxalates forming stones in your body. You can read more about this topic on Gabriel Cousins book Conscious Eating. Most nutritional experts or Naturopathic Doctors will recommend that you simply rotate your dark leafy greens, especially Spinach and Chard.
Will Cooking your Greens Destroy Oxalates and Make them Safe to Eat?
Another issue that is raised in the article is the idea that cooking your greens will help to destroy the oxalates and render them safer to eat. This is actually the direct opposite of the truth. When we cook greens, the oxalates go from being organic oxalates to inorganic oxalates. These inorganic oxalates are far more likely to bind to calcium, dietary and that which is already in our bodies, and form stones than organic oxalates are. You may be increasing your risk of forming stones through cooking your greens, rather than decreasing your chances. We know that cooking destroys only about 10% of the oxalate content anyways, as oxalates are very stable compounds. This is from Dr. Norman Walkers work in his book “Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices: What’s Missing in Your Body?”
Greens have not been found to cause arthritis, nor have they shown to aggravate the condition. If you have arthritis it is recommended that you avoid nightshade vegetables, those being tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatillos and eggplant. This is because this particular family of veggies contain a compound called solanine which is a glycoalkaloid. This is what causes the inflammation and aggravation caused by these foods, not oxalates.
One last point is that the oxalate content of greens with block your body’s ability to absorb calcium. The effect of oxalates on calcium is negligible at most, and generally leafy greens come with calcium. Thus, the minimal block on calcium absorption due to oxalates in greens does not in any way outweigh their health benefits.
Greens are Alkalizing and High in Minerals
Now, lets remember that greens are highly alkalizing for the body. They have an overall anti-acidic effect, and being that oxalates are acids, this stands to show that the over all effect of having a diet that is rich in greens mean that you will have a diet that is over all alkalizing, not acid building. Greens are amazing for helping to bring down any kind of inflammation because they are so alkalizing for the system. Remember that inflammation = acid, and alkalinity = anti-inflammation. One of the reasons that greens are so effective at bringing down inflammation in the body is because they contain so many minerals. Minerals are alkaline in nature, and thus when we ingest them we become more alkaline. The more minerals you have in your system, the more those minerals can bind with oxalates in your gastrointestinal tract and usher them out of the body, blocking them from being reabsorbed and causing harm.
If you want to be cautious, then your best bet is to cycle your greens. This simply means that you do not eat the same greens over and over every day. If you are putting greens into a juice or a smoothie, do Kale one day, Romaine Lettuce the next, and Spinach on the third. The two highest oxalate containing greens are Spinach and Swiss Chard, so as long as you do not eat these two greens every single day, you should be just fine.
It should also be noted that the foods that truly contain dangerous and damaging levels of oxalates are soda pop, processed animal foods, processed sugar and processed salts. These are the foods that we should be keeping out of our smoothies, and out of our diets in general.
Greens are a fundamental component of a healthy, balanced and well-rounded eating style. They contain so many health boosting phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water and other compounds that science has yet to even identify and name. To exclude or limit these foods would be a disservice to your health and well-being, so make sure to get your greens on!