Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Low Oxalate Diet

A Nutritional Dilemma

Published 20 August 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The devastating news hit me hard. Glasses on his nose, my nephrologist banned me from eating chocolate for life. He blamed my recurring kidney stones on the one-pound bars of special dark chocolate that I routinely ate before long runs.

Armed with an inch-thick lab report, doc proclaimed that my stone consisted of 95 percent calcium oxalate, and that my urine contained high levels of oxalate and sodium. With the threat of big pills if I did not comply, he prescribed a low-oxalate, low-sodium diet, and asked to see me again in winter.

I left the clinic with a list of banned foods, that could have easily read "the foods that Kamal ate". Besides chocolate, the list included berries, kiwi, rhubarb, whole wheat bread, nuts, beans, beets, garlic, okra, parsley and spinach, to name a few. This proved to be a double-blow. Not only were all my native foods banned - no more tabouli, homos or falafel, so were my adopted favorites of greens and beans, spinach salad and rhubarb pie.

The medical literature reports that kidney stones afflict half a million Americans each year. Calcium oxalate is the main ingredient in 80 percent of the stones. Distance runners are 4 to 6 times more likely than normal people to develop stones. Dehydration is blamed for being the main cause. However, a careful look at a runner's diet suggests that oxalate may be the real culprit.

Oxalate, or oxalic acid C2H2O4, occurs abundantly in vegetables, fruits and grains. Traces of oxalate may be found in animal foods, but for the most part, large quantities of oxalate hide in those colorful vegetables and whole grains that make up runners diets. Thus, the low-fat high-fiber diet that we follow in quest for faster times, that same diet credited with reducing the risk of coronary diseases, increases the risk of developing kidney stones.

On the other hand, a double cheeseburger in a bleached white bread bun and a thick coat of mayonnaise, with a ham-and-cheese omelette and a whole-fat vanilla milk shake contain practically no oxalate. On the contrary, drinking milk with meals is supposed to catch those evil C2H2O4 molecules, and flush them out of the body before they crystallize in the kidneys.

With the help of computers and the Internet, I have accepted the challenge of developing a runner-friendly diet that will keep both kidney stones and pounds away. All-white meals of skim milk, grilled haddock, rice, cauliflower, cabbage salad and cheesecake will replace the colorful feasts of the past. Likewise, I will seek to drink a gallon of water every day.

On the bright side, doc confirmed that rum-and-raisin ice cream and a large non-fat cappuccino with every meal prevent the formation of kidney stones. If only I could find the oxalate content of amaretto.

Kamal Jabbour received a cappuccino-maker for his 44th birthday. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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