The rationale behind building a diet based on plenty of vegetables is sound nutritional advice.
This is because vegetables are rich in a multitude of health-boosting compounds; from cancer-fighting antioxidants to heart-healthy fiber.
And while it’s impossible to argue that vegetables aren’t needed for excellent health, the average person should beware of the hidden dangers behind eating some of the healthiest vegetables.
Namely, some vegetables contain potentially harmful compounds that can lead to serious health issues down the road.
Why Vegetables Are Dangerous in The First Place
Oxalic acid is a potentially dangerous substance that you’ll find in vegetables like broccoli, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables.
Before we discuss what makes it dangerous, let’s go over why a dangerous compound like oxalic acid is in vegetables in the first place.
Plants, by their very nature, want to thrive and survive.
And in order to survive, they need to have mechanisms built-in that deter animals or parasites from eating them or destroying them from the inside.
Thus, plants form all kinds of toxic compounds to ward off becoming lunch for a deer, or a grub.
Most plants are unsuitable for human consumption, that’s why you can’t go out into your backyard and start snacking on an elm tree.
And the few plants that we can eat still contain toxic elements.
For instance, blueberries contain precursors to cyanic acid (which forms the structure needed to make cyanide).
Nightshades of all varieties have substances called alkaloids in them which are potentially harmful.
While many of the edible plants we eat have low levels of dangerous toxins, some of them contain higher amounts, and a diet built on oxalic acid could result in oxalic acid build-up which can cause severe issues down the road.
How Oxalic Acid Found In Leafy Greens Could Damage Your Body
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines oxalic acid as “a poisonous strong acid (COOH) that occurs in various plants (such as spinach) as oxalates and is used especially as a bleaching or cleaning agent and as a chemical intermediate.”
While we make it in labs by blending sugar and nitric acid (so we can sterilize products and clean dirty surfaces), it’s also found in vegetables.
Oxalic acid is strong enough that it can burn the skin and eat away at porous surfaces.
The average person doesn’t need to worry about oxalic acid because our bodies are equipped to metabolize it and expel it through urine and stool.
However, this is assuming a person doesn’t consume too many foods containing oxalic acid.
If, on the other hand, a person eats a diet filled with foods containing high levels of oxalic acid toxic levels of oxalate (the metabolized form of the acid) may begin to form, and when that happens, it may begin to affect the function of various systems in the body.
Jillian Levy, CHHC, provides a summary of the possible side effects:
- Kidney stones — when crystals combine together to form a kidney stone, they can stick to the lining of the kidneys and cause lots of pain
- Bladder problems
- Worsened fibromyalgia symptoms (muscle pains, chronic fatigue, brain fog, hormone imbalance, insomnia, and headaches)
- Candida overgrowth
- Vulvodynia (chronic inflammation and pain for women throughout the female genitalia)
- Potentially higher risk for development of certain cancers, including breast cancer
Because oxalic acid is first filtered by the kidneys, kidney stones, and kidney issues are two of the most common health issues a person might expect to have when dealing with an abundance of oxalic acid in their diet.
How to Enjoy Healthy Vegetables and Not Worry about Oxalic Acid Poisoning
The best way to avoid oxalic poisoning isn’t as simple as “not eating too many leafy green vegetables.”
While that may seem like a suitable course of action to take, avoiding those kinds of foods could come at the expense of your health.
You can safely enjoy leafy greens in copious amounts and not worry about oxalic poisoning provided you do the following things:
>> Drink plenty of fluids: Your kidneys need plenty of fluids to filter out toxins like oxalate properly. Most people who deal with kidney stones are chronically dehydrated.
>> Eat foods rich in calcium. Oxalate binds to calcium so it can be excreted from your body. If you have low calcium levels, it means oxalate may end up reaching the kidneys where it can help to form the structure for kidney stones. Eating enough calcium (but not too much) keeps oxalate levels in check.
That being said, if every single meal of yours contains oxalic rich foods, it may be time to dial back.