Watercress and kidney stones; what’s the connection?

Oxalate is a waste product of the body’s metabolism but is also found in many foods including peanuts, rhubarb, spinach, beets, Swiss chard, chocolate, sweet potatoes- and watercress.

Despite the name, I didn’t plan to write a blog about watercress; it’s more of a play on words using my family name and a description of watercress -unique, tangy, nutritious, multifaceted-to name a blog about health.

But peoplesearching the web for information about watercress find this blog and the most common questions they need answered include

  1. Does watercress cause kidney stones?
  2. Can I eat watercress if I’ve had kidney stones?
  3. Does watercress cure kidney stones?
Big rocks on a grassy slope
These are stones. Kidney stones are called renal calculi.

What are kidney stones?

Stones, or urinary tract calculi, don’t usually cause symptoms as long as they stay in the kidney. But if they migrate down into the ureter, the tiny tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder, trouble begins. As the stones try to wiggle their way down the narrow passageway, spasms of pain result; and the bigger the stone the worse.

kidneys and urinary system graphic
The urinary tract- kidney, ureters and bladder

Fortunately, most stones less than 10 mm, or about 3/8 of an inch, eventually pass into the bladder and out the body through the urethra. Some get stuck and must be removed. Occasionally, large stones can block the kidney, leading to infection. But , once you have had a stone, you want to prevent another.

What causes kidney stones and why care about oxalate?

We know what substances cause most stones- chemicals that normally pass through the urine but  sometimes build up, harden and form into tiny rock-like structures called calculi. Calcium causes 95% of calculi, while the other 5% are made of uric acid, struvite, or cystine.

Calcium can’t travel out of the body alone, it needs a companion, either phosphate or oxalate. So people who have too much oxalate in their blood are at risk of calcium oxalate stones, the most common type- either from

Watercress and oxalate

Oxalate is a chemical composed of carbon-C and oxygen-O molecules. It combines with other elements to form salts, one of which is calcium oxalate.

Oxalate is a waste product of the body’s metabolism but is also found in many foods including fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains, legumes, and even chocolate and tea. Some examples of foods that have high levels of oxalate include peanuts, rhubarb, spinach, beets, Swiss chard, chocolate, sweet potatoes- and watercress.

So to answer the questions-
  1. No watercress itself does not cause kidney stones, but the calcium and oxalate in watercress does.
  2. It depends. If you did not have a calcium oxalate stone and are not prone to that type, you should be able to eat watercress with no worries. If you have had multiple calcium oxalate stones, especially if they were large and required surgery, you probably will want to avoid any oxalate containing foods at all.
  3. Not exactly, but the calcium in watercress binds oxalate , removing it from the body in the urine. So there is less oxalate to make more stones.

How to limit intake of oxalate rich foods.

If you do choose to avoid high oxalate foods, this chart from the National Kidney Foundation will help you choose the right foods.

Other ways to prevent kidney stones

Drink enough water to produce 2-2.5 quarts/liters of urine every day.

A high fluid, preferably water, intake can prevent build up of these stone causing chemicals. At least 2 quarts/liters daily is recommended, more if one does heavy physical activity , sports, or lives in a hot climate.

Limit the amount of sodium, salt, in the diet.

Since the majority of stones contain calcium, it might make sense to limit calcium. But the kidneys spend more time filtering sodium; so with less sodium, more calcium can  be flushed away and so it’s not making stones.  Here are 5 tips to reduce salt intake from WebMD.

Limit intake of certain animal proteins.

High purine foods can cause the less common uric acid stones. To prevent uric acid stones, cut down on high-purine foods such as red meat, organ meats, beer/alcoholic beverages, meat-based gravies, sardines, anchovies and shellfish.

a basket filled with fruits and vegetables
a LIGHTSTOCK.COM image, an affiliate link for stock photos and other media
Eat a whole foods, plant based diet.

Although watercress and other greens contain oxalate, it’s probably not necessary to avoid them entirely; they also are a good source of calcium which attaches to the oxalate, removing both from the body. Moderate amounts with adequate fluid intake should be safe, unless your doctor tells your otherwise.

  • Follow a healthy diet plan that has mostly vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, especially those that have high fructose corn syrup.
  • Limit alcohol because it can increase uric acid levels in the blood and avoid short term diets for the same reason.
  • Drink beverages with lime and lemon juice.

This information is current as of the publication date; it is general medical information that helps doctors and patients make decisions about what is right for them. Medical recommendations and practice changes as we learn new things. If you deal with any of these issues , please discuss with your doctor before taking any action.

Explore further

This was a simple explanation about kidney stones but you can get more detailed info at these links.

the National Kidney Foundation

Watch a brief video about kidney stones from MedlinePlus .

Explore the causes of excess oxalate in detail, especially the rare genetic causes, at the Oxalosis and Hyperoxaluria Foundation.

Doe and Faun White-tailed deer drinking at a farm pond in Stanly Co., NC on Aug. 19, 2000.
Doe and Faun White-tailed deer drinking at a farm pond in Stanly Co., NC on Aug. 19, 2000. copyright Daniel E. Wray

I don’t know if deer get kidney stones, but if so, they are doing the right thing. I like this photo from the LIGHTSTOCK.COM collection. (affiliate link)

exploring the HEART of health

Thank you for joining me to explore the HEART of health. I hope you’ve learned something new about kidney stones; I hope you never have one! Please contact me about topics you want to read about.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr. Aletha

Watercress and other Herbs

An herb comes from the green leaf of a plant. In American English the H is silent.

Previously here we have looked at watercress from the viewpoints of botany, geology, agriculture, and geography now we’re going to start looking at watercress from its most familiar viewpoint and that is cooking, eating, and nutrition.

In one post, we established that watercress is a vegetable,specifically a green leafy vegetable in the same family as broccoli and cabbage. But watercress also has another identity and that is an herb.

Note: Because I live and publish from the United States, I use the American pronunciation of herb in which the h is silent. Apparently, the word is pronounced differently in The United Kingdom. I don’t know how other English speaking countries pronounce it. You can listen to the difference at this link.

herb pronunciation
a drawing of a nastutium plant-watercress

What is an herb?

 According to Bee Wilson writing in her column Table Talk, The Wall Street Journal (June 17th, 2021)

“Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with “spice” but technically an herb-which comes from the Latin herba, meaning grass-comes from the green leaf of a plant whereas spices come from other parts such as seeds bark roots and buds.”

Ms. Wilson points out that it is perfectly possible to cook and eat without fresh herbs, but it would be dull. She gives examples–warm focaccia with rosemary, Mexican food with the grassy hit of cilantro, and Vietnamese pho soup with its essential mint; without these, half the pleasure would be gone.

The person who cooks with herbs is making a stand for joy.

Bee Wilson

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

She explained that half a century ago the only herbs in frequent use were mint, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, and basil. Other herbs less commonly used included bay leaves, chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon. But the use of cilantro was little known. Both it and basil grew in popularity as Mexican and Italian cooking spread throughout the United States, as now is Middle Eastern cuisine.

Ms. Wilson recommends a cookbook by Mark Diacono, a gardener and cook, Herb: A Cook’s Companion. In it he included a recipe for grilled peaches flavored with basil, watercress, and shaved parmesan.

View a sample of the Kindle version at this link.

She also mentions that in Renaissance Europe herbs were seen as vital in the kitchen both for seasoning and as medicine.

In an old cookbook she found a recipe using the herb borage, that claimed to comfort the heart and take away melancholy. She tried it, but it didn’t work. However, she said it is true that life is sweeter with herbs.

You can own a copy of the historical book, The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits, for the bargain price of $987!

Books by Bee Wilson (affiliate links)

At her blog Claire’s World, Claire Justine a “47+ lifestyle blogger from Nottingham” offers us this scrumptious sounding recipe using watercress. Visit her blog and try some of her other recipes also.

Baked Pumpkin and Watercress Fondue
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

 

exploring the HEART of HERBS

I’m learning more and more about watercress and hope you are too. If you’ve just now found me, here are links to some other watercress posts.

What is watercress? It depends on who you ask.

Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. Many health benefits are attributed to eating watercress , such as that it acts as a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid. It may also have cancer-suppressing properties, and is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer.

Keep reading

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

And please share this post with your friends who want to know more about watercress and herbs. Or who just like good food.

Thanks, Dr. Aletha