Dietary restriction of oxalate intake has been used as therapy to reduce the risk of recurrence of calcium oxalate kidney stones. Although urinary oxalate is derived predominantly from endogenous synthesis, it may also be affected by dietary intake of oxalate and calcium. The risk of increasing urinary oxalate excretion by excessive consumption of dietary oxalate is greatest in individuals with a high rate of oxalate absorption, both with and without overt intestinal disease. Although oxalate-rich foods enhanced excretion of urinary oxalate in normal volunteers, the increase was not proportional to the oxalate content of the food. Only eight foods--spinach, rhubarb, beets, nuts, chocolate, tea, wheat bran, and strawberries--caused a significant increase in urinary oxalate excretion. Restriction of dietary calcium enhances oxalate absorption and excretion, whereas an increase in calcium intake may reduce urinary oxalate excretion by binding more oxalate in the gut. This review of the literature indicates that initial dietary therapy for stone-forming individuals can be limited to the restriction of foods definitely shown to increase urinary oxalate. The effects of oxalate-restricted diets on urinary oxalate should be evaluated by means of laboratory analyses of urine composition. Subsequent long-term therapy can be recommended if beneficial results are obtained from oxalate restriction at an appropriate calcium intake.