Q&A: Electrolytes

Q: What can I eat to keep my electrolytes balanced properly on a normal diet?

A: Electrolytes are essential for our body to function–they maintain a water balance and allow our muscles to contract, our nerves to send signals to the brain, and our body to convert the calories we eat into energy.

It’s important to maintain the right levels of electrolytes through healthy eating, but our bodies generally do a good job regulating them. It’s pretty unusual for dangerous fluctuations to occur in healthy individuals. People with chronic disease or severe illnesses may need to be more careful.

Here are some of the main electrolytes in our body, and some of the best good food sources for them:

  • Sodium – We all consume most of our sodium from salt. Salt is added to almost all of the foods we eat, including bread, cereals, and canned goods. Most people need to limit their sodium intake, rather than focus on getting enough.
  • Potassium – Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium. Oranges, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, bananas, kiwis, and apricots are all examples. Milk, yogurt, and meat also provide potassium.
  • Chloride – Combined with sodium to make salt, chloride is abundant in our diets. It is also naturally found in many vegetables, such as seaweed, tomatoes, and lettuce.
  • Magnesium – Foods rich in fiber often are good sources of magnesium. Whole grains, beans, spinach, and nuts are examples.
  • Phosphorus – Meat and milk are the main sources of phosphorus. There is some phosphorus in whole grains as well, although this is not absorbed when we eat it.
  • Calcium – Dairy is the best source of dietary calcium. As I mentioned here, green leafy vegetables besides spinach, calcium-fortified beverages, and some bread products also provide calcium.

Thanks for the question!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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