What are Electrolytes?

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Electrolyte-enhanced water and drinks are now a staple in the grocery aisle so you may have asked yourself what are electrolytes and why do I need them? Electrolytes are minerals that carry a charge in your body, and they’re crucial for your health. They are needed for muscles to work properly, allowing your brain to coordinate your complicated movements and send electrical signals throughout your nervous system. Organs need electrolytes to function, but your metabolism runs on electrolytes, too.The five main electrolytes are potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. They are found in many common foods that we eat and a well balanced diet contains a variety of electrolyte rich foods. When someone is on a reduced calorie diet, however, it is crucial to ensure the body is consuming electrolytes from supplement sources such as electrolyte-rich, zero-calorie drinks. In fact, drinking electrolyte-enhanced water can increase your metabolism, which increases the body’s ability to burn fat.Because electrolytes are lost through sweat, rigorous workouts will flush electrolytes out of your system. If you drink only water for hydration, you are not replacing those electrolytes and instead your body will contain too much water. It’s important to drink zero-calorie sports drinks or other liquids that contain electrolytes if you’re going to do vigorous exercise.Extreme imbalance of electrolytes can cause a condition called hypernatremia. The imbalance causes your body to swell with too much water and not enough electrolytes (mainly sodium). This swelling can cause mild symptoms like queasiness, but also headaches, confusion, fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps, and much more serious problems. Generally, this is only an issue for endurance athletes and people with medical conditions that cause electrolyte problems, but if you’re really getting your sweat on in order to shed the pounds, make sure that you’re also consuming electrolytes with your water. If you ever start to feel sick during a hard workout, make sure to get proper medical attention.

Foods that Contain Electrolytes

Potassium (K+)Avocado, bananas, kale, spinach, and beans are healthy foods that are high in potassium. Almost all leafy greens, especially dark greens, contain potassium.Sodium (Na+)Pickles, peanut butter, low fat chocolate milk, and beets have good amounts of sodium. Sodium is the easiest to get because nearly all packaged food items contain sodium. It’s usually more difficult to avoid sodium than to get an adequate amount.Chloride (Cl-)Olives, tomatoes, lettuce, and celery all contain chloride. It’s not something that’s very often brought up as a crucial mineral, but chloride is another important electrolyte.Calcium (Ca2+)Low-fat dairy or soy milk, yogurt, soy, almonds, and broccoli all contain calcium. People tend to think of dairy products as being the only foods high in calcium, but many green vegetables also contain calcium. Foods like watercress have more calcium than cheese or milk!Magnesium (Mg2+)Pumpkin seeds, fish, lentils, whole grains, and figs have good levels of magnesium. Pumpkin seeds aren’t a typical part of our diet, but many whole grains give an adequate supply of magnesium, as well as dried fruits.Remember, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables that come in a rainbow array of colors is the best way to make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients that you need for overall health and a healthy weight.

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