Most of us have heard of electrolytes and have an understanding that they play a vital role in keeping us healthy. But did you know that electrolytes are found in all cells of your body and are essential for every single one of your bodily functions?
In fact, without electrolytes, your heart wouldn’t beat, and your lungs wouldn’t breathe. Thus, there is no doubt that your survival depends upon them. However, balance is always key and abnormal levels of electrolytes could lead to serious health risks. Thus, care should be taken to keep things in check.
Here is all you need to know about electrolytes, and how to maintain healthy levels of them in your body.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are salts, which conduct electrical currents within our bodies. They enable functions like muscle contractions and nerve functions.
Additionally, they are made up of minerals such as sodium, chloride, potassium and bicarbonate. These minerals conduct electricity when dissolved in the body’s fluids.
How do we know if we are facing an imbalance in Electrolyte levels?
There are many symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance, which can include:
- Muscle cramping
- Irregular heartbeat
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Fatigue and low energy level
These symptoms can be the result of many things, including the excessive consumption of table salt, the over-consumption of processed foods or the use of diuretics.
What to do about an imbalance in Electrolyte levels?
Electrolytes are biomarkers that you should track regularly to check your baseline levels and see progress from below recommendations. When normal, only required to do so 6 to 12 monthly, but if abnormal it should be repeated with closer intervals until it normalizes.
Before reaching for a convenient supplement to bolster your supply of electrolytes, it is recommended that you look to whole food options first. Remember always in moderation, as excessive intake can quickly over-correct. Monitor the biomarkers to ensure that imbalanced levels of electrolytes are corrected.
Foods to eat and Activities to do
It is always a good idea to include foods high in key minerals in your idea. A few examples are:
- Bananas—Amongst the many health benefits of bananas are a high content of potassium, as well as magnesium.
- Coconut water—Rich in potassium, magnesium, manganese and sodium, coconut water is known to mimic human blood plasma in its makeup, which is why it was once used for intravenous rehydration when a saline solution was unavailable.
- Yogurt—In addition to packing a whopping 17% of our daily value of potassium, yogurt is also an excellent source of magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and calcium. These vitamins and minerals will aid your body in avoiding problems associated with low levels of electrolytes, but help you maintain healthy bone density as well.
- Swiss chard—This surprise nutritional powerhouse contains a whopping 95% of your daily value of total electrolytes. This also includes 28% daily value of potassium and 39% daily value of magnesium.
- Avocado—With even more potassium than bananas (5mg for avocado, vs 422mg for bananas), avocados are a key source of this important electrolyte, and are also high in magnesium.
- Scallops—Seafood, such as shellfish and fish, are also exceptional sources of key electrolytes. Consuming them as a part of your diet is a good way to balance your electrolyte levels.
- White mushrooms—Another surprise on the list is mushrooms—particularly white button mushrooms. With a high content of potassium, selenium, and phosphorus, mushrooms are a great way to add electrolytes to a variety of dishes.
Additionally, anyone with a diet high in sodium should avoid processed foods. Take note of food labels and track the sodium content of ingredients before choosing food items.
When training or competing in hot weather, athletes should keep their bodies hydrated. If need be, look to extra sources of electrolytes. Examples of such are, sports drinks, or foods rich in electrolytes.
If necessary, electrolytes can be consumed as a supplement. However, you need to beware that while it is much less likely to attain dangerous amounts of electrolytes through whole food sources, the overuse of supplements can be dangerous and may cause an imbalance in your electrolyte levels.
An abnormally high intake of electrolytes, coupled with poor hydration, can lead to dangerous concentrations of salts. Thus, when aiming to increase your intake of electrolytes, be sure to hydrate accordingly.
Another alternative to taking supplements would be to use a low sugar or sugar-free sports drink designed to hydrate.
Better yet, choose coconut water, which many consider nature’s perfect sports drink, due to its balanced values of salts and fluids, which mimic human plasma.
There is no doubt that balanced electrolyte levels and proper hydration is key to ensuring that your body functions optimally. So drink up and do your part in keeping your body happy, healthy and hydrated!
Interested in learning more about electrolytes? Read on more about it in our biomarker post here!
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