What is an Electrolyte?
An Electrolyte is a substance that conducts electricity when it is dissolved. Electrolytes are salts and covalent compounds. When the electrolytes are dissolved into water the Ions are separated by the water molecules allowing the Ions to move freely in the water. These Ions have a charge (either positive or negative) and therefore can conduct electricity. These Ions are then used by the body once the solution has been consumed. Electrolytes maintain health and function in all the systems of the body. They promote neuromuscular impulses, maintain body fluid osmolality (the body’s fluid concentration of all chemical particles), regulate the body’s pH levels (acid base balance) and distribute fluid and electrolytes between the body’s fluid compartments. Electrolyte concentrations are different in different fluid compartments of the body and this concentration should always be maintained.
These electrolytes can be present in the fluid we drink. Water and other beverages can contain electrolytes but this is not necessarily true for all beverages. Foods also contain electrolytes; fruits, vegetables and seafood have a high amount of electrolytes amongst the food groups. Water provides the environment for the electrolyte chemicals to react, without a solvent (in this case water) the electrolytes chemical reaction won’t occur resulting in fatigue, weakness, dizziness, confusion and muscle and nerve problems. This is one of the vital reasons why body fluid levels need to be maintained.
Fluid in the Body
Our bodies are made up of about 60% water and the older we get the percentage of water drops. 2/3 of the water is intercellular fluid (fluid inside the cells) and 1/3 is extracellular fluid (fluid outside the cells). Just a 5% drop in body fluid can result in a 25% loss of energy. Fluids are split up into three categories based on their concentration. An Isotonic solution has the same concentration as blood (in this case) and allows for fluid to move easily across a membrane without losing concentration of either solution (the two solutions being blood and water) . A hypertonic solution has a higher concentration than blood and draws much more fluid from the blood, causing dehydration. A hypotonic solution has a lower concentration than that of blood and the blood will draw a lot of fluid from the solution, inevitably to the point at which it bursts if enough water is available. This is a process known as osmosis. Osmosis is where molecules of a solvent pass through a membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated solution or between equally concentrated solutions. Proteins and electrolytes are important for maintenance of osmotic pressure.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses a lot of fluid which is not being replenished. At this point the kidneys will try to retain water by reducing the amount of urine and the frequency of urinating, you will notice flushed dry skin, weak pulse and postural hypotension (low blood pressure). The main signs of the body retaining water are dark smelly urine and not urinating as frequently as you would normally.
There are three types of dehydration. Isotonic dehydration is when we lose both water and electrolytes equally and this is a common type of dehydration. Hypotonic dehydration is where you lose a lot of electrolytes then water this would likely be seen with vomiting. Hypertonic dehydration is when we have more water loss then electrolytes.
Not drinking enough water causes dehydration, drinking too much water without consuming salts also causes dehydration. This is because in order to remove the water the kidneys need to remove sodium and chloride as well. So it important to replenish your electrolytes as well as drinking enough water every day. This can be done by consuming foods that are high in electrolytes. I will list foods high in the various electrolytes further down in the post but let’s now have a look at how much water should be consumed in a day. It is useful to know that water is not only needed to stay hydrated but it is also needed to eliminate toxins through the urine. A sign of not drinking enough water to eliminate toxins is if you have brown marks or spots on your skin. The reason for this is if your body cannot eliminate toxins through the kidneys or the bowel then it will have to eliminate the toxins from the skins, so drinking enough water will clear up your skin as the toxins are eliminated through your kidneys.
How much water to drink?
The calculation for the amount of water to drink each day is your body in pounds divided by 2 in ounces. So someone who weighs 168 pounds would need to drink 84 Ounces or 2.4 Litres of water a day. Although I would consider this to be the minimum amount of water you should be consuming, you can consume more if it is not a problem for you. Up to 4 litres is fine. But find the right amount that works for you, factors to be considered would be your size, the environment and your lifestyle (high amount of activity etc.).
You should start your day by consuming 1 litre of plain water first thing in the morning because you haven’t consumed any liquids all night. This may be hard for someone who barely drinks water but you should get used to it very quickly. Drinking lukewarm water on an empty stomach will help flush out the digestive system and also awaken the organs. You should also drink a litre of plain water at night for the sleep ahead (I understand this may not be a good idea from someone with a weak bladder, but you could consume the water in the evening a few hours before you go to bed). Any additional litres of water should have 1 teaspoon of salt (natural salt, Pink Himalayan Mountain salt or Sea Salt) added to it. Salt should not be added to the water if you only consume 2 or less litres of water. Your body absorbs water from your food as well as what you drink. Increasing your intake of water will also increase the amount you urinate. To eliminate water the kidneys need to also flush out sodium and chloride these electrolytes then need to be replenished as well thus adding salt to water.
The two litres of water to be consumed in the morning and night are hypotonic solutions. They have a lower concentration than blood and therefore will allow the blood to absorb a lot of the water to balance out the two solutions. So in a sense we are compensating for the time we spend sleeping by absorbing more water then we need to get us through the 7 to 10 hours of sleep. The rest of the water consumed within the day will contain a teaspoon of salt per 1 litre of water. This will create an isotonic solution. This will allow for fluid to move freely in and out of the blood maintaining the level of water in the blood.
It is important to also have a healthy natural diet where you prepare your food from scratch. A lot of commercially bought foods contain high amounts of salt so consuming foods high in salt like sauces, cereal and sandwiches and adding salt to water can be very problematic. But if you prepare your food from scratch you will have more control over the amount of salt that is added to your food and adding salt to your water wouldn’t be a problem.
Just to clarify, the salt is only added to any water consumed other than the 2 litres consumed in the morning and evening. If you only consume two litres of water then don’t add any salt to it. Also if you are consuming foods high in salt then salt should not be added to the water.
Sodium – is a positively charged ion. It regulates osmotic forces, in other words it regulates the movement of fluid around the body. To remove water the body will remove sodium through the kidneys and the water will follow, when the body wants to retain water it will also retain sodium. That’s a reason why you should not try to cut out salt completely from your diet or reduce it a lot. It also regulates neuromuscular activity, pH levels, cellular chemical reactions and membrane transport. It is important to replace sodium and water, for example when doing physical exercise you lose both sodium and water, so you should consume both sodium and water to maintain the balance otherwise hypernatremia may occur, this happens when you have too much water in comparison to sodium. My next post will be a homemade energy drink full of electrolytes and void of harmful additives and preservatives found in commercial sports drinks.
Chloride – is a negatively charged Ion that binds with sodium and maintains the acid-base balance (pH level) in the body. Too much could be causing problems with the acid-base balance. Chloride is acid forming, this means it makes the body more acidic. The body should be slightly alkaline for optimal health.
Potassium – is a positively charged Ion. It regulates the fluid volume (it is released by the body to retain water) and pH balance inside the cell. Potassium is alkalising. It is important for the nerve conduction and contraction of muscles. We lose 40-80 mq potassium through urine every day and the same amount needs to be consumed every day. Symptoms of potassium deficiency are fatigue, muscle weakness, anorexia, nausea, acidosis, paresthesias and more.
Calcium – is a positively charged Ion. 90% of calcium is in the bones. It is needed for muscle contraction and relaxation. It is also needed for blood clotting, hormone secretion and membrane stabilization. Vitamin D and Calcitonin regulate the amount of calcium in the body. The calcium levels in the body correlate with the phosphorus levels. High level of Phosphorus means a low level of calcium and vice versa. Therefore Calcium deficiency could be caused by high level of Phosphorus or low levels of vitamin D. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include increased neuromuscular stimulation, muscle spasm/cramps and intestinal cramps. Also if the body is acidic the body will draw calcium from the bones to neutralise it and this can also be a cause of calcium deficiency despite consuming an optimum amount of calcium.
Phosphate – is found in the bones and is an acid-base buffer. It is needed for muscle contraction. Phosphate provides the energy for muscle contraction. It can be either lost through the GI tract, having high levels of calcium or not consuming much phosphate. Symptoms of phosphate deficiency are impaired neurologic function, weak reflexes, confusion, paraesthesia, anorexia and dysphagia.
Magnesium – is important for proper functioning of the heart and for the absorption of other electrolytes. Magnesium relaxes muscles. The symptoms of magnesium deficiency include neuromuscular hyperirritability, convulsions, hyperactive reflexes, increased heart rate and insomnia among others.
Now let’s look at foods that are high in electrolytes
|Magnesium – per ounce|
|Spinach, Kale (leafy greens)||22.1mg to 9.5 mg|
|Brazil nuts, Kashew nuts, Almonds||107 mg to 76 mg|
|Flax seeds||108 mg|
|Halibut, Tuna, Salmon (cooked)||18 mg to 7.6 mg|
|Dark Chocolate||40.88 mg|
|Potassium – per ounce|
|White beans||503 mg|
|Dried Apricots||325 mg|
|Acorn Squash (baked)||122 mg|
|Salmon (cooked)||130.3 mg|
|Mushrooms (cooked)||111 mg|
|Calcium – per ounce|
|Curly Kale, Watercress||37.8 mg to 33.6 mg|
|Mozzarella cheese||141 mg|
|Okra (cooked)||26.9 mg|
|Green Snap Beans (boiled)||12.3 mg|
|Sardines (cooked)||107 mg|
|Phosphorus – per ounce|
|Pumpkin seeds||347 mg|
|Romano cheese||213 mg|
|Salmon (cooked)||104 mg|
|Scallop (cooked)||66 mg|
|Brazil nuts||203 mg|
|Lean Beef (cooked)||55 mg|
|Lentils (boiled)||50.4 mg|
Sodium is added to all types of foods so I don’t think I need to elaborate more on that. Chloride is mainly found in salt as Sodium Chloride but it is also found in many vegetables like tomatoes, celery and olives.
Coconut water has become very popular within the last five years or so. The water derived directly from a young green coconut has many health benefits, one being that it has a high amount of electrolytes. A cup of coconut water has 57.5 mg of calcium, 60mg of magnesium, 600mg of potassium and 252mg of sodium. It can be a healthier alternative to commercial sports drinks that are high in sugars and contain additives and preservatives. When I refer to coconut water I mean the water straight out of a coconut. Coconut water has really gone viral within the last 5 years and many companies are manufacturing coconut water from Coca-Cola with its Vita Coco Coconut water to PepsiCo with its O.N.E Coconut water.
Would the Coconut water from these manufactures have the same nutrient content as Coconut water straight from a Coconut?
Not necessarily, the water goes through processing which reduces the nutrient content and may add harmful additives and preservatives to it. Like with other juices most companies will create a concentrate from the water (this is usually done for transportation and then adding water back after the concentrate has been shipped to distribution centres around the world).
Pasteurisation is also used to extend shelf life. Pasteurisation is also done on milk. In this process the water is heated at a very high temperature that kills off all bacteria, this in turn extends the shelf life. With this extended shelf life we get a loss in nutrients and vital enzymes as the heat kills of enzymes and nutrients as well.
Taking that into consideration it is best to consume Coconut water directly from a Coconut for the most benefits, but the commercially bottled Coconut water is far better than other sports drinks on the market. To read about this further check out this post by Vani Hari, click here.
That brings us to the end of this post. As you can see a natural healthy diet consisting of a lot of vegetables, nut and seed and healthy amount of meat and fish can be very nutritious and provide vital electrolytes. My next post will be a recipe for a healthy natural sports drink, packed full of Electrolytes. In a later post I will look at the ratios of these electrolytes and what the healthy balance is to maintain a healthy body, but until then take care and keep yourself topped up.
[Note: This blog is only for informational purposes only. It is not medical advice or diagnosis. Please consult with a Health care practitioner before making any diet, nutritional changes or when starting a new fitness program.]