Getting our fair share of electrolytes is crucial since they play a role in myriad bodily functions. Not only do electrolytes keep us hydrated, but they also help our muscles contract and regulate our body’s pH levels.
The electrolytes your body utilizes to carry out these functions include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, and bicarbonate. Yep, sodium, which often gets a bad rap, is actually an electrolyte. “Sodium is an essential mineral, meaning we can’t live without it, and it plays a critical role in maintaining our blood pressure, nerve conduction, and the acid-base (pH) balance of our bodies,” explains Washington state-based dietitian Kristin Koskinen, R.D.N.
So yeah, electrolytes are a pretty big deal—especially for certain groups of people. Read on for more information on who may need more and how to get them.
The People Who need more electrolytes
Certain individuals may need more electrolytes than others. Here’s a close look at who could stand to benefit the most from adding more electrolytes to their days.
1. Individuals following a keto diet
Keto diets—which aim for 70 to 80 percent fat, 10 percent carbohydrates, and the remainder of calories from protein—may fall short on sodium, according to Nora Saul, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., L.D.N., clinical diabetes specialist with Silver Fern Healthcare in Hartford, Connecticut. “When you dramatically reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat, you lower your insulin levels, which can cause the kidneys to excrete more water, sodium, and potassium,” she says. “This can lead to headaches, fatigue, and brain fog, which is often a complaint of people starting keto or very low-carbohydrate diets.”
One way to reduce these symptoms is to transition to a low-carb or keto diet gradually, Saul recommends. Instead of jumping from 200 or more grams of carbohydrates per day to 30 or less, start with 100 grams of carbohydrates and shave that number down every few weeks. It’s also extra important to increase your electrolyte intake by eating foods such as bananas, oranges, cooked spinach and broccoli, mushrooms, peas, and cucumbers, all of which are rich in them, she says. You might want to include more salt, too.
2. Athletes and avid exercisers
If you play a sport (be it professionally or recreationally) or work out regularly, chances are you sweat more frequently than the average individual. Excessive sweating, which can lead to a depletion of electrolytes, can set you up for many problems including dizziness, headaches, and weakness, warns Koskinen. As a result, highly active people, athletes, and heavy sweaters are all people who need more electrolytes than most. To replenish electrolytes and provide your body with the protein and carbs it needs to recover, she recommends dairy products, which check all the boxes.
3. People with thyroid conditions
Thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, are considered to be a cause of electrolyte disorders, according to California-based physician Marvin Singh, M.D., board member for the Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Medicine. “Sodium and potassium levels could be low, while phosphate levels could be higher in those with hypothyroidism, for example,” he says. These individuals may want to consume electrolyte-rich food sources—particularly bananas, cooked spinach and broccoli, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms.
5. Those on certain medications
Certain medications, namely diuretics, could possibly cause electrolyte imbalances, notes Singh.
“Diuretics, in particular, are medications that increase urination and loss of electrolytes along with it, so sometimes the sodium and potassium levels can go down,” he explains. “Medications that may cause diarrhea could also cause lower levels of potassium, so monitoring levels may be helpful to understand if supplementation is needed.” As usual, eating a healthy balanced diet can help these people maintain proper electrolyte levels.
How to determine if you’re short on electrolytes
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re falling short on electrolytes, you can ask your doctor to test your levels at your yearly physical.
How To Add More electrolytes to your diet
If you fall into one of the above groups of people who needs more electrolytes (or just think you may be falling short), these expert suggestions may do the trick in helping you find balance—as long as you’re eating an otherwise minimally processed diet.
1. Vary up what’s on your plate
“Eating a wide variety of plant foods each day will optimize your intake of magnesium, potassium, and calcium,” says Koskinen. She recommends reaching for avocados, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and seeds. “Animal products like dairy and fatty fish are also good choices for electrolytes,” she adds. If you struggle to incorporate enough electrolyte-rich foods through diet alone, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you might benefit from an electrolyte supplement—and which product will best suit your needs.
2. Incorporate healthy salty foods
“Although fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats tend to be quite low in sodium, in particular, dairy products (especially cheeses), some fats (such as salted butter), seafood, and bread products contain substantial amounts,” Saul says. If you need to replenish electrolytes after exercise, for example, reach for snacks like pretzels and brined foods such as olives and pickles.
3. Use salty condiments
Soy sauce, mustard, taco sauce, and tomato sauce can all provide some sodium when you need it, Koskinen says. Use them in moderation and they’ll add both electrolytes and flavor to your meals.
4. Drink enough water
Though the amounts of the electrolytes sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, found in water can vary greatly, good ol’ H2O is still important for keeping your electrolyte levels balanced, Singh says. “If you are exercising a lot, sweating, having diarrhea, are sick and with fever, or are even just out in the heat, you lose water and electrolytes, so it is important to drink extra water,” he explains. “Generally, though, it is important to shoot for around six to eight glasses of water a day.”