Low-Oxalate Foods and Drink

It’s been a while since I updated the blog. Blame busy-ness and this darn Phoenix heat. Nonetheless, it’s past time for another low-oxalate recipe. I want to wax philosophical at some point too, about food’s place in our lives and psyches, but wow. I am hot and tired, so here’s what you get:

Bread-Crusted Tilapia

Tilapia is a tasty white fish with no fat and tons of protein, yet it can use some spicing up.

  • Whip together one egg and about 2 tsp water
  • Mist some olive oil into a frying pan and turn on the stove.
  • Take 1 cup Italian bread crumbs – the Progresso (I think) kind are nice (blue container).
  • Dip the tilapia in the egg mixture and then run it through the bread crumbs, coating thoroughly on both sides.
  • Pan-fry the fish for about eight minutes per side. When the tilapia flakes easily with a fork, it’s done.
  • Sprinkle with lemon for some added flavor, if desired.

Serve with a fresh iceberg salad (non-kidney stone sufferers should eat real greens) with crunchy snow peas and light blue cheese dressing. How good does that sound? I just totally made myself hungry.

It’s 114 degrees and humid here in the Phoenix area. Tempers are short and stomachs undecided. Summertime dinner staples – barbecued chicken, hamburgers – get old. And heavy foods in general are unappealing. Something tangy and light such as the recipe below, however, sounds divine. Best of all, it’s kidney-stone friendly. (Or maybe that’s kidney stone-unfriendly, since the point is to keep stones from forming.)

 Sweet & Sour Pork Chops

  •  2 lbs pork chops
  • 1 onion, minced
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 can pineapple chunks and juice
  • ½ c. vinegar
  • ½ c. water

Brown pork chops on both sides, then place on long pan or dish.

Mix oil and all other ingredients then pour over chops and bake at 350 degrees for about one hour or until the pork chops are tender.

The only drawback to this recipe is having to use the oven when it’s so hot outside. Maybe this would work in the barbecue? If you try it, let me know.

One of the (many) frustrations of low-oxalate eating comes from white carbs. People prone to kidney stones need to steer clear of whole-wheat grains, quinoa and the like, and that reality really whittles down side- and main-dish starch choices. Problem is, rice, pasta, potatoes and white bread get tiresome fast. They also don’t help most people who are trying to lose or maintain weight, nor are they great for overall health.

 There are some alternatives to help balance a white-carb-heavy diet. Some ideas seem completely obvious but when you’re used to having limited options, it’s easy to stick with them. Humans are, after all, creatures of habit. Break the cycle and don’t forget to refer to the University of Pittsburgh chart when concocting recipes of your own. (Share them here!)

  • Portabella mushrooms grilled in garlic and olive oil. YUM.
  • Broccoli, fresh or frozen, with Smart Balance Light and shredded cheddar cheese.            
  • Peeled cucumber* salad drizzled in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
  • Cauliflower, cooked, then stored in the fridge in balsamic vinegar and small amount of olive oil.
  • Creamed corn. (Okay, not so healthy, but pretty darn tasty.)
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Low-oxalate fruit – peaches, tangerines, bananas, green grapes, mangoes, pineapple, apples – in salad or smoothie form.
  • Iceberg lettuce with peeled cucumbers*, sliced hard-boiled eggs, shredded carrots, a few chunks of fresh tomato (although it’s best to stay away from all-things tomato when starting low-oxalate eating), a sprinkling of croutons for a satisfying crunch, and dressing (light blue cheese or light Italian)

*Note: Cucumber rind contains high amounts of oxalate.

Off-Limits Starches, A Sampling:

  • Green beans
  • Lima beans
  • Refried and black beans
  • Spinach and its leafy-green relatives
  • Romaine and green- and red-leaf lettuce
  • Sweet potatoes/yams

If you replace just two or three white-starch dishes with a healthier low-oxalate substitute each week, you’re sure to feel better and maybe even lose a pound or two!

T isn’t a big drinker. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone else who gets buzzed off a single Corona Light. The point, though, is that he does enjoy adult beverages on occasion and, as with everything else he consumes, he has to be careful about what he drinks. Here are some tips if you’re kidney stone-inclined:

  • Avoid draft beer. The brewing process creates calcium oxalate, and builds up in the brewing equipment, so it’s like drinking a kidney stone. Opt for bottled or, eek, canned, beer instead. And, sadly, dark beers like Guinness are almost verboten.
  • Wine. There’s differing information about whether red wine contains a high amount of oxalates. If you want to play it safe, avoid the cabernets, merlots, shirazes, etc. White wines are kidney stone-safe, however – or, at least as safe as drinking can be.
  • Spirits. Distilled alcohol such as vodka, gin, rum and tequila are fair game. Just make sure to go easy on the moderate- and high-oxalate mixers such as cranberry juice, orange juice and tomato juice. Sigh. Yes, that means fewer Bloody Marys and Cape Cods (or would that be Capes Cod?).

Notice, in all of this, that no one says to never put any of these drinks to your lips ever again. When you’re starting the low-oxalate approach, it is a good idea to go cold turkey on high-oxalate food and drink. But you will be able to start introducing foods, gradually, back into your diet as you figure out what combination of meds and diet works with your body.

Salmon with Rosemary and Honey

Craving a fresh dinner? One of our favorites is salmon with rosemary and honey. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve served this dish to guests, to rave compliments. Always makes a girl feel good. Anyway, here’s what to do:


  • Fresh or frozen salmon, preferably wild for the Omega-3 benefits.
    Since most people prone to kidney stones can’t/shouldn’t eat seeds or most grains — including flax, a wonderful Omega-3 source — it’s necessary to take advantage of fish rich in Omega-3. Good places to buy this kind of salmon include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods (or Whole Wallet, take your pick) and Costco. A lot of grocery stores carry farmed salmon with added dye — blech. 
  • Fresh rosemary if at all possible. 
    We live near Phoenix, which means rosemary grows year-round. With two huge plants in the front yard, there’s a rather endless supply. And it smells divine after a rainstorm. 
  • Honey
  • Butter spray or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, sparing

What To Do

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cover a Pyrex dish or broiling pan in aluminum foil, for easy clean-up.
  • Spray foil with butter spray or olive oil to help keep salmon from sticking.
  • Place salmon in dish and stab all over with a fork.
  • Drizzle honey over fish, enough to suit your fancy.
  • Sprinkle tiny amount of salt and pepper over honey.
  • Chop rosemary into fine pieces. Take a moment to inhale the scent, then scatter artfully over salmon. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and 10 minutes per inch thereafter.

How to Serve

For the kidney-stone sufferer, serve salmon with iceberg salad dressed with hard-boiled eggs, a few slices of fresh tomato, croutons and dressing made of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Feel free to add a second side dish such as broccoli dripping with Smart Balance Light. Beverages should always include water, and you could add a chardonnay, which pairs well with salmon.

Oxalate: Poisonous crystalline. Contributes to calcium formation in the body.

High-oxalate level: More than 50 milligrams per serving.

When T’s urologist finally figured out his stones are created by excess calcium, we were a little perplexed. We’d always been told salt is the kidney-stone culprit. But no. With the diagnosis, then, came a one-page handout of low-oxalate  — food and drinks. That was all our doctor had. The Internet had even less. 

That was five years ago. Recently, I again searched the Web for legit lists of low-oxalate foods — because there’s a lot of conflicting, confusing data — and found that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, God bless ‘em, had published a comprehensive PDF. This is the best place to start in identifying which foods, often healthy ones, you might be eating that form the stones. Berries? Bye-bye. Chocolate? Same. Leafy greens? Adios. Draft beer, nuts and seeds? Ditto. (Really stinks when you’re out with friends who can drink the fresh beer and eat the table peanuts.)

I know. It’s crappy. Almost all the foods you’re supposed to eat to ward off cancer, heart disease, obesity and death are the ones that make the kidney stones. As this blog develops, part of what I aim to do is share how T has rearranged his eating habits and lifestyle, and dealt with all of the requisite tradeoffs, to keep new stones from invading his body. It’s worked for five years and just this year he has started to slowly reintroduce some of those forbidden foods to his diet. Not in large or frequent doses, mind you, but in small quantities that allow him to savor the flavors he’s missed and that, so far, have not caused any problems. However, I don’t recommend doing this until all current stones are out of your system and you’re as sure as possible that more are not forthcoming.

All in all, it’s been sort of emotional to watch T indulge in the occasional Snickers bar and succulent strawberry after years of abstention. Funny how food and taste are so integral to life’s delights. (Another topic for another day, methinks.) So, yes, those of you just starting to eliminate high-oxalate foods and beverages from your diet will struggle. We’ll be sharing some tips for handling those ups and downs. And if you have stones yet to pass, the regime won’t eliminate those — lithroscopy might be your best option for immediate relief. (T has gone through that procedure, too — another blog for another day.) Still, cutting kidney-stone-prone foods now will, most likely, keep new evil rocks from building. Small steps for a big outcome.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.