Electrolytes: Types, Purpose and Best Sources
Electrolytes used to be popular only among athletes in the form of sports drinks. But with the rise of low-carb diets like keto and the fact that most Americans fall short on essential nutrients, people are becoming more thirsty for knowledge on how to fill nutritional gaps.
With all this hype around electrolytes, it's important to know what they are and how they affect our overall health and well-being.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes, aka ions, are essential minerals that carry an electrical charge and travel in and out of cells. Electrolytes regulate the osmotic pressure in cells and control the constant impulses in our bodies to keep our lungs breathing, our hearts beating and our brains learning.
The most common types of electrolytes in our body are bicarbonate, calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.
What’s the Purpose of Electrolytes in the Human Body?
Electrolytes are vital to support various functions in our bodies. Here’s the rundown of each type of electrolyte and the purpose they serve:
- Helps maintain pH balance*
- Helps move carbon dioxide through the bloodstream*
- Helps blood vessels contract and stabilize blood pressure*
- Supports bone strength and density*
- Helps regulate blood pressure*
- Usually hangs out with sodium and helps transport water in and out of cells*
- Supports nerve and muscle function*
- Promotes growth of healthy bones and teeth*
- Moves nutrients into cells and assists in eliminating waste products while supporting metabolism*
- Helps maintain fluid balance*
So you see, it’s vital to maintain a specific balance of these electrolytes for our bodies to function properly. For instance, Dr. Carolyn Dean (author of Invisible Minerals) tackled that too much calcium without sufficient magnesium can cause muscle cramps, spasms, and fatigue. An electrolyte imbalance may occur when you have excessive or insufficient amounts of essential minerals in your body.
Who Are at Risk of Electrolyte Imbalance?
During exercise or physical activity, sweat is produced by the body to cool itself down by evaporation. The more intense a workout is, the more fluid you lose through sweat. Excessive sweating can cause dehydration.
Dehydration causes an imbalance of electrolytes in your bloodstream that can make it difficult for your muscles to function properly and can even lead to heatstroke or heat exhaustion. Endurance athletes like marathoners may be at risk for electrolyte imbalance if they fail to replace lost fluids after running.
The keto diet is the latest weight-loss craze to hit the health scene. It's based on a very low-carb, high-fat diet that forces the body to burn fat instead of glucose. It's hailed as one of the most effective methods to drop pounds because it's restrictive and leaves you feeling fuller for longer.
While there are benefits to following this kind of diet, there are also some potential pitfalls. One risk comes from not getting enough electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium—most commonly found in fruits and vegetables (which are restricted on this diet plan).
Morning sickness is common during pregnancy and is typically associated with electrolyte imbalance. Nausea or vomiting and frequent urination can lead to dehydration and loss of potassium or sodium from the body. Loss of these minerals can cause serious health problems for mommy and baby.
Women who experience severe vomiting during their pregnancies should consult their OB-Gyne on how to prevent an electrolyte imbalance from developing due to morning sickness; treatment options may include taking prenatal supplements.
People with Health Conditions
Certain health conditions can throw off the body’s electrolyte levels. People with fever, high blood pressure, eating disorders, diarrhea, and kidney disease are likely to develop an electrolyte deficiency or imbalance. To compensate for the lost electrolytes and fluid during these challenging conditions, it’s vital to consume electrolyte-rich foods and supplements as necessary.
What Are the Best Sources of Electrolytes?
Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are natural and one of the best sources of electrolytes, including:
- Leafy green veggies: collard greens, kale, and spinach are excellent sources of calcium and magnesium.
- Squash and sweet potato are rich in potassium while potatoes are a great source of magnesium and phosphorus.
- Fruits like dried apricots and bananas are high in potassium.
- Nuts & seeds such as cashews are good sources of magnesium and phosphorus.
- Kidney beans, lentils, and soybeans contain potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Breakfast Cereals and Milk
Breakfast cereals are typically fortified with calcium, while some oat- and wheat-based grains contain magnesium. The milk we pour into our favorite cereals provides a nutritious combination of carbs and protein. It also has a rich supply of sodium, calcium, and potassium.
Coconut and Watermelon Juice
Coconut water contains various electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. It is also naturally low in sugar, making it a great addition to mocktails and even coconut popsicle!
On the other hand, a cup of 100% watermelon juice offers about 6% of the daily value for magnesium and potassium and small amounts of calcium and phosphorus.
Smoothies are a fun way to mix various electrolyte-rich fruits and veggies into one refreshing concoction.
Whole foods like fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and dairy products are some of the best sources of electrolytes. Mix ‘em all in a blender, then voila! You’ve got a delicious and nutritious smoothie to break intermittent fasting or have it as a post-workout recovery drink.
Never settle for a traditional sports drink, as they’re typically high in sugar. Just imagine if you’re doing an hour of cardio; a single bottle of sports drinks will give you back all the calories you just worked off.
If asked, "what are the best electrolyte drinks?" your answer will likely be sports drinks. Well, we can't blame you on that since electrolytes are typically featured in sports drink ads. But what if a friend with a health concern asks, "what electrolyte drinks are good for diabetics?" would you give the same answer? Likely not!
While most sports drinks like Gatorade are advertised as the best source of electrolytes, they contain an insane amount of sugar, too! A great and healthy way to quench your thirst and replenish lost electrolytes is by taking a sugar-free electrolyte powder supplement such as Root'd.
Root'd provide the premium benefits of a full-spectrum multi with sugar-free electrolytes and probiotics to keep you nourished and hydrated. Its powder form makes Root'd a versatile option to enjoy and take your electrolyte drink experience to the next level!
We have a list of sugar-free and low-calorie mocktail recipes you can try at home. Cheers!
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