Everything You Need to Know About ElectrolytesArticle posted in: Diet & Nutrition
When you think of electrolytes, you most likely think of athletes chugging rainbow-colored sports drinks by the gallon. However, there is so much more to these little minerals than artificially colored beverages.
Electrolytes are essential to proper health, even if you’re not a professional football player. Keep reading to learn the importance of electrolytes and how they fit into your healthy lifestyle.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are electrifying—literally. According to Healthline, electrolytes are essential minerals in the body that have an electric charge. Examples include sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are used in many bodily functions, such as the nervous system, muscle contraction, hydration and pH balance.
The Keto Flu
When beginning a low carbohydrate diet, many experience flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea and muscle cramps. According to The New Keto-Friendly South Beach Diet by Dr. Arthur Agatston, high insulin levels cause the kidneys to absorb excess sodium. However, when you decrease your sugar and carb intake, insulin levels also decrease. This causes the kidneys to get rid of extra salt through your urine, leading to decreased fluid levels and blood pressure. The sudden dehydration and drop in blood pressure are the cause of the dreaded “keto flu.” Exercise and sweating can also lead to loss of fluid and electrolytes.
Despite its uncomfortable symptoms, Dr. Agatston explains that the keto flu is a good thing. It indicates that your high insulin levels have dropped and your fat stores are now “unlocked” and able to be burned. “The simple cure is the replacement of the lost salt and water.”
The Sports Drink Dilemma
You’ve likely been told (through persistent, clever marketing jargon) that the best way to replenish electrolytes and rehydrate is to drink a sports drink or coconut water. The problem with both options is the sugar content. Popular sports drinks can contain over 30 grams of sugar, which the body doesn’t need to rehydrate or regulate muscle contractions.
Coconut water has a much better nutritional profile. It contains sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium, says Livestrong.com. However, eight ounces of coconut water also contains 12 grams of sugar and 13 grams of total carbohydrates, says the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Neither of these “solutions” fit into a keto friendly lifestyle.
The body can’t function without electrolytes. But luckily, it’s pretty easy to obtain them. Dr. Agatston himself “cured” his own keto flu by eating salt before and after workouts. He staved off muscle cramps by taking a slow-release magnesium supplement. You can also enjoy magnesium-rich foods, like leafy green vegetables, fish, nuts and sunflower seeds. Epsom salt baths and zero-calorie electrolyte drinks can also help with symptoms.
Whole foods are also good sources of electrolytes. Avocado, salmon, milk and leafy greens are rich in potassium, says Medical News Today. Milk, cheese, yogurt and almonds have lots of bone-building calcium (and protein!). According to Healthline, canned seafood, cottage cheese and pickles contain higher amounts of sodium.
At the end of the day, you really don’t have to worry about electrolyte deficiencies if you’re drinking plenty of water, eating Healthy Fats, Non-starchy Vegetables, Proteins and incorporating some all-natural salts like Celtic or Himalayan salt into your diet. Rest assured that if you’re currently following the South Beach Diet plan and enjoying our fully prepared, nutritionist-developed meals, you’re most likely getting the electrolytes you need. However, always speak to your doctor if you suspect you have an electrolyte imbalance. They should be able to perform a simple blood test to check your levels.