Foods That Heal, Foods That Harm
I believe what you eat is an essential component of the self-healing process. For chronic joint pain, I work with patients to identify contributing causes, of which certain foods, improperly processed by a compromised digestive system, can be a culprit. Many of my savvy nutrition-conscious patients know about the inflammatory problems caused by sugar, gluten, soy, dairy, corn and nightshades. But my avid vegetable consumers get thrown off when I recommend decreasing exposure to high oxalate foods to help them get back in balance.
But I thought kale, chocolate and nuts were healthy superfoods?!
When Hawaiians pound taro to make poi, or Filipinos dry taro leaves out in the sun prior to simmering to make laing, or Indians boil then pulse or finely chop their spinach for saag paneer, they are breaking down the oxalates in these vegetables. Oxalic acid protects a plant from animal predation. Although humans have a way to detoxify oxalic acid, some of us may be better at processing oxalic acid than others. For those whose systems are overwhelmed, oxalic acid can make it's way into our connective tissue and bind to calcium to form painful crystals. We are most familiar with the role of oxalic acid in causing kidney stones. Other health issues that may be worsened by oxalic acid include: joint pain, autism, vulvodynia (genital pain), interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and possibly even fibromyalgia. In practice, I wonder if it may play a role for a minority of patients with low back/sacral pain, uterine issues and hip pain.
Foods high in oxalic acids include beet greens, beets, rhubarb, spinach, parsley, chives, purslane, cassava, chard, cocoa/chocolate, dandelion greens, kale, peanuts, okra, almonds, carrots, soy, sweet potatoes, black beans and even turmeric and ginger. If you eat some of the above foods often, you may want to familiarize yourself with lower oxalate foods and slowly (to lessen detox effects) incorporate these to help you get back in balance. Sometimes blanching, soaking or boiling can also decrease a food's oxalic acid content.
Healing is a process that leads in the direction of cure, toward greater health, vitality and balance. Authentic healing is almost always accompanied by change and growth of consciousness. Illness, therefore, is a synchronistic opportunity to embrace change that can lead to greater health and well being. All healing is, in essence, a sacred endeavor.
- Dr. Larry Malerba from Green Medicine
In other words, yes, you can have too much of a good thing! I offer patients specific and temporary dietary cautions as teaching tools for you to get to know and understand the effects of different foods on your body. Through this process, you can better discern what moderation looks like for you.