Whenever I visit the cafe of my local healthfood store, there are usually several people in gym clothes lined up to order a green smoothie to sip after their workout.
Green smoothies are made by blending large amounts of raw leafy green vegetables with fruit to soften and sweeten the taste. Typical vegetables included in green smoothies are kale, spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, celery, broccoli, and parsley.
Is the green smoothie fad a truly healthy habit over the long term or can consumption of these seemingly healthy drinks in fact contribute to serious health problems?
Raw Leafy Greens Contain High Oxalate Levels
Frequent consumption of large quantities of raw, leafy green vegetables as occurs when a person drinks green smoothies can be deceiving at first as a person will probably initially feel great after adopting this habit particularly if he or she is coming off a highly processed, nutrient poor diet.
The vegetables used in green smoothies are almost without exception high oxalate foods. Over time, a high oxalate diet can contribute to some very serious health problems particularly if you are one of the 20% of people (1 in 5) that have a genetic tendency to produce oxalates or if you suffer from candida or other fungal challenge. In those cases, a high oxalate diet can deal a devastating blow to health.
Oxalate Toxicity Not a New Problem
Humans have suffered the effects of oxalate toxicity since ancient times. A 2000 year old mummy from Chile was discovered through x-ray analysis to have an oxalate kidney stone about the size of a golf ball!
Oxalates can be deposited almost anywhere in the body and wherever they land, pain or worse is the result.
75-90% of kidney stones are oxalate related with 10-15% of Americans afflicted at some point during their lives. As the star shaped crystalline stones pass from the kidney, they cause pressure and pain in the bladder and urethra and can actually tear up the walls of the urinary tract.
Oxalate Stones Can Form in Any Tissue
Oxalate stones can show up in any body tissue including the brain and even the heart.
Oxalate crystals resembling shards of glass which become lodged in the heart cause tiny tears and damage to this vital muscle with every single contraction pumping life giving blood to the rest of the body.
Oxalate crystals which end up in the thyroid can cause thyroid disease by damaging thyroid tissue.
A frequent location for oxalates to end up is skeletal muscle which will cause pain with even normal movement and make exercise nearly impossible. Dr. William Shaw, Director of The Great Plains Laboratory for Health, Nutrition and Metabolism who has studied oxalates extensively, is convinced that oxalate toxicity is a factor in fibromyalgia the pain of which can absolutely devastate a person’s life.
Vulvodynia – Painful Sex
Cases of women experiencing painful sex are on the rise with oxalates a possible culprit.
Vulvodynia, a condition causing pain in and around the vagina, is linked to oxalates deposited in this delicate reproductive tissue. Oxalate crystals are very acidic and they cause irritation, burning, and stinging sensations for affected women with an accompanying feeling of rawness whenever they engage in sexual relations.
Oxalates Are Fungal in Origin
A surprising finding is that oxalates are produced in large amounts by fungus. Large stones have been found in the sinuses and lungs of people suffering from systemic fungal infections such as candida or Aspergillus.
Therefore, anyone who suffers from any sort of candida or other fungal challenge like fungus nails or dandruff would be wise to be very concerned about oxalate intake via the diet.
Consumption of green smoothies would not in any way contribute to improvement of health in these situations. Given that the majority of people today suffer from gut imbalance/fungal issues caused by antibiotic and prescription drug use along with consumption of processed foods, a high oxalate diet which includes green smoothies is an unwise practice for virtually everyone.
Does Cooking Destroy Oxalates?
Would it be safe to prepare green smoothies with leafy greens that have been lightly steamed first?
Not really, because oxalates are extremely stable and while cooking high oxalate foods like leafy greens (and discarding the cooking water) does reduce the oxalate level, it remains quite high.
Since green smoothies are consumed so frequently by those who swear by them, a light steaming of the veggies first would not make a significant difference over the long term.
Healthier Alternatives to Green Smoothies
The best course of action for health, then, is to opt out of the green smoothie fad.
If you enjoy green leafy vegetables, enjoy them in moderation in salads or cook them and carefully drain and discard all the cooking water – never use it in soups and sauces! Be sure to serve cooked leafy greens with a healthy, traditional fat like butter (not margarine or any factory fats synthesized with rancid and/or GMO vegetable oils) for maximum absorption of minerals.
Another option is to drink raw cultured vegetable juice or eat raw cultured vegetables. Not only will you get enhanced nutrition from the culturing process which adds enzymes and nutrients, but you will also get a beneficial and therapeutic dose of probiotics to help balance gut function and improve digestion.
Another option is to do shots of fresh, green wheatgrass juice. Wheatgrass juice is very low in oxalic acid.
If you already are suffering from some of the ailments described in this article and suspect a high oxalate diet which includes green smoothies or a daily spinach salad may be the cause, stop this practice immediately and consult with a holistic physician who can guide you on the road to recovery and how to best rid your body of the oxalate crystals that are potentially irritating one or more of your body tissues.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Author, Get Your Fats Straight
The Role of Oxalates in Autism and Chronic Disorders, William Shaw PhD