“Electrolytes” might sound like some futuristic sci-fi robot, but they’re actually very real compounds that have a great impact on the human body.
They’re mostly associated with issues of dehydration, which is why many energy and sports drinks promise to deliver big doses of them. Any time your body loses fluids, you’ll also lose electrolytes, which is why restoring them is important—and why knowing natural sources of them is essential.
The simplest definition of electrolytes is: a type of mineral that carries an electric charge. In physiological terms, that means compounds like sodium, potassium, and magnesium that turn into ions that can provide a current to control fluid balance within the body.
Electrolytes are made up of salts, acids, bases, and proteins; they are the most abundant type of solutes in bodily fluids. As such, the body requires electrolytes in order to maintain proper functionality. Here are some of the main things that electrolytes do:
Electrolytes themselves aren’t actually one independent substance. Rather, they can be any one of several different minerals that are part of the average diet. The most common types of electrolytes found in foods and beverages include:
Potassium is found in a huge range of fruits and vegetables, including collard greens, bananas, oranges, and melons; even beans have potassium. In addition to being one of the key electrolytes, this mineral can help to naturally lower blood pressure, prevent bone loss, reduce the chance of developing kidney stones, and help support normal cellular function.
When grouped together, these two electrolytes form common table salt. As such, the combo is one of the most commonly ingested electrolytes in the American diet, easily found in beef, cheese, olives, and any canned foods that include salt. Though it’s essential to have some on a daily basis, it’s important to limit intake of sodium chloride to about 2,300 milligrams a day since excess can increase blood pressure levels.
Magnesium is another electrolyte responsible for regulating fluids in the body. Even better, magnesium works along with potassium to help reduce blood pressure levels. It also helps support stronger bones and teeth (and reduces the risk of osteoporosis) and helps to regulate nerve and muscle functions. Find good stores of it in leafy greens, cereals, nuts, and beans.
Calcium is the most widely distributed and abundant electrolyte in the human body. It’s commonly known as the mineral responsible for strong bones and teeth, but it also helps with muscle contraction, nerve impulse control, heart health, and even blood clotting. It’s abundant in dairy products but also in eggs, beans, and some fruits like figs or apricots.
This mineral works along with magnesium and calcium to promote a strong skeletal system. As well, phosphorus also helps with the growth, repair, and overall health of cells within the body and can help to produce energy from carbs and fats. Meats and dairy are the main sources of phosphorus; therefore vegans and vegetarians may need to pay careful attention to their phosphorus intake to ensure they’re getting enough (supplementation could help with this if necessary).
It’s important to remember that just a single type of electrolyte isn’t enough to maintain a healthy body. Instead, the right balance of essential minerals should be the focus. Adhering to a healthier nutrition plan will naturally ensure that proper levels of electrolytes like those listed above are a regular part of your diet.
Electrolyte imbalances can be common, with dehydration one of the biggest culprits. In fact, according to recent data, about 75 percent of Americans might be dealing with chronic dehydration without even realizing it.
Poor fluid intake can be a factor; when the body sweats or uses up fluids, it also eliminates any electrolytes found within them. As such, the first step towards maintaining proper electrolyte balance is simply to make sure that you are staying hydrated on a consistent basis. Water is always a good bet, but coconut water is even better since it has natural electrolytes.
An electrolyte imbalance can trigger a lot of different symptoms, many the same as dehydration:
If the issue is poor fluid balance, the issue can be easily treated (or prevented) by simply drinking more liquids and eating more natural sources of electrolytes. However, if issues persist even with diet and lifestyle modifications, you might consider seeking the advice of a doctor.
While many sports drinks have been branded as a quick fix for replenishing electrolytes (and they are quite successful at it), there is one big problem: They’re often loaded with sugar and extra calories. Because of this, it’s better to focus on replacing electrolytes through other, more natural means.
Several foods and drinks make it easy to do just that (in fact, many you might already be regularly enjoying):
While a balanced diet is the key to getting plenty of electrolytes, supplements are still a viable option as long as they don’t contain huge amounts of added sugars. Here are some of our favorite options.
With a sweet orange flavor, Nuun’s convenient tablet helps support your immune system while loading up on essential electrolytes. Each tube includes 10 tablets that easily dissolve in water, and are vegan and gluten-free.
Specially formulated to contain all of the essential electrolytes the body needs, this powder is a great way to help replenish the body with fluids (especially after a workout). It does so with a sweet berry taste provided by red beet extract and natural pomegranate and raspberry flavors.
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