Kale seems to be in the health news lately, and many of the articles warn, that eating kale could be detrimental to your health. The culprits are the goitrogen and oxalate chemicals it contains. Goitrogens interfere with thyroid hormone production and can block the uptake of iodine from your foods. Oxalates can contribute to the formation of stones that are deposited primarily in your kidneys, but can appear in all the body’s organs. I thought now what – is this one more thing to be concerned about in our diets? The good news is that goitrogens are inactivated by heat – a light steaming will do it. Oxalate content can be leached out and lowered in food by steaming and then discarding the water, but there goes all the rest of nutrients along with it. What is one to do and believe? I have never been a fan of eating large quantities of raw vegetables, so I thought I was safe at least on the goitrogen front. However, I have long used dark leafy greens in about everything I cook, so oxalates are supposedly retained in my stews and soups, since I don’t steam them prior to throwing them in the soup pot.
The whole concept that kale isn’t good for me just doesn’t make sense. After all, kale is one of the oldest vegetables known to man eaten raw initially, and most likely thrown in the soup pots of our ancestors 1.5 million years ago. So I wanted to know exactly how much oxalates kale contains. I found a great table that compares data from three different sources: http://oxalicacidinfo.com/. As you will see from the chart, the amount is negligible and hardly worth fretting about. Note that some of the “powerhouse” foods like sweet potato, almonds, and berries also contain oxalates. It is present in most of the foods we eat.
Another thing I found out about oxalates is that our body produces about 50% of it and 50% of it is obtained from food. Hmm. Something is not adding up and I surmised that a healthy body should be able to process and eliminate it effectively. There are missing pieces here, so I conducted more investigation. I found the Weston A. Smith Foundation www.westonaprice.org, and in their article, “The Role of Oxalates in Autism and Chronic Disorders” I found key information as to why oxalates are increasingly provoking pathology in our bodies. While I don’t agree with all of the Weston Foundation premises or conclusions, I believe they provide two missing links – a healthy gut and consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
The article identifies “the fact that oxalate crystals are produced in very high amounts by molds and fungus.” This follows the fact that much of our stomach flora needed to combat the over proliferation of fungus in our bodies has been destroyed with the increasing consumption of sugar, grains, and the use of antibiotics. Our bodies are being bombarded with overabundant quantities of oxalates made by the fungi residing in them. They also find “omega-3 fatty acids and cod liver oil are also very effective in preventing oxalate deposition. The omega-6 fatty acids, mostly from commercial vegetable oils, behave in the reverse, and accelerate the deposition of oxalate.” Grains and nuts should be included in the same category as vegetable oils as they also have a preponderance of omega-6 fatty acids in relation to omega-3’s or the lack thereof. The scarcity of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern diet is well known and the only truly available sources of omega-3’s are from animal sources harvested from cold ocean waters or fed solely by pasture grasses, seeds, and insects. The connection between the lack of healthy stomach flora and the absence of omega-3’s explain why we can’t adequately process oxalates produced in our bodies and obtained from our food sources. While nature built into plants protective mechanisms such as oxalates to limit their annihilation, nature also built into our bodies protective mechanisms, all in a delicate balance. Disturb the balance, and you have pathology.
The question of whether or not we should eat foods with high goitrogen and oxalate content is a complex one and depends upon chemical processes in our bodies I don’t feel most nutritionist and doctors fully understand. So I will keep on eating kale for its great fiber and nutrition content, but will cook it and limit raw ingestion of all cruciferous and green leafy vegetables. Cooking neutralizes so many of the toxins found in plant food sources, and plus, our guts just aren’t designed to process major quantities of raw uncooked food sources anymore. The first upright hominid with a smaller gut and a larger brain than its ancestors, using fire to cook its food, shows us that.