Tiny Molecules With A BIG Job
Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that help maintain proper fluid function in the body and can be found in our blood, sweat and urine. They allow fluids to pass into and out of cells, aid in muscle, nerve and digestive functions, maintain proper heart health, regulate pH levels and improve mitochondrial health (mitochondria are the energy center of our digestive system, the “good guys” in our gut that keep us healthy). These are just a few of the very important jobs they do.
Electrolytes play a role in just about every bodily function you can think of, and having the proper amounts of each is essential to good health. They lower your insulin level, which improves insulin resistance. This is really the ultimate goal of a keto lifestyle, because insulin resistance is at the root of a huge number and variety of health issues that people face.
A deficiency of electrolytes is what is responsible for the symptoms of keto flu when you first start following the ketogenic way of eating. You might experience symptoms such as heart palpitations, weakness, dizziness, light-headedness, muscle cramps, fatigue and constipation. Not fun.
Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on when this happens.
When your blood glucose level is high (spelled “high carb diet”), you retain a LOT of fluid. Once you begin eating fewer carbohydrates, your blood glucose starts to drop pretty quickly. Without all that glucose, your body no longer needs to hold on to so much water, so it releases it, along with a lot of electrolytes. This initial loss of fluid is the reason so many people lose a lot of weight in their first week or two of doing keto; after that it levels off to a slower, steadier pace.
Meet The Players
Some electrolytes, such as bicarbonate, are naturally produced in the body, so you really don’t have to worry about making sure you’re getting them from your diet. Others must be obtained through the foods we eat. Because they work together (synergistically) to balance each other, it’s important to maintain the proper ratios between them. Here are some of the most important electrolytes:
Sodium (salt) generally gets a bad rap, and while it’s true that not all types of salt are created equal, our bodies do require some to function properly. Most people’s sodium level is WAY too high, especially if they’ve been eating a diet filled with processed junk foods. High sodium levels will cause you to retain too much fluid (think edema and bloating). Having too little sodium (caused by drinking too much water) can create a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, which causes blood pressure to drop too low, muscle weakness and nerve function impairment.
The best kinds of salt to use are either pink Himalayan salt (this is my first choice) or Celtic sea salt. Both of these contain 84 different minerals, as well as trace minerals, and neither will cause high blood pressure. Regular table salt, on the other hand, contains only two minerals. It is processed at very high temperatures and has additives such as anti-caking agents. Depending on how much water you’re drinking, you’ll need about 1 -2 teaspoons of sea salt per day.
Potassium is important for heart health, regulating blood pressure, preventing stroke, building muscle and maintaining healthy bones, production of hydrochloric (stomach) acid, and helps prevent the formation of kidney stones. Because potassium is the only mineral that is not stored by the body, we need to consume roughly 4700 mg of it DAILY! Deficiency can cause heart palpitations and/or a high pulse rate, muscle cramps and spasms, and dehydration.
Chloride works together with sodium and is involved in the making of stomach acid. If your sodium level is too low, as in a low salt diet, you won’t have enough stomach acid, which will lead to heartburn/acid reflux.
Magnesium is necessary for more than 300 different cellular and digestive enzyme functions, regulating blood pressure, heart health, maintaining proper nerve and muscle function, calcium balance, absorption of vitamins D and B1 and optimizing sleep, just to name a few. We need about 450 mg of this nutrient daily.
Calcium works together with magnesium in the body. It helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen our bones, lower cholesterol and plays a role in blood clotting. It is possible that even if you’re taking a calcium supplement, you may still be deficient if your body is not able to absorb what you’re taking in. When this happens, the unused calcium gets deposited in and around joints and in the arteries. Apple cider vinegar can be really helpful in mobilizing calcium so the body can use it.
You’ve probably noticed that there is a lot of overlap between both the function of and the problems caused by deficiency of electrolytes. Your best bet is to try to get all of them together by eating nutritious whole foods, especially vegetables. Ideally we should be eating 7-10 cups of vegetables every day.
Some great sources of calcium are butter, heavy cream, yogurt (always be sure to check the ingredients to make sure it’s keto-friendly, as many have added sugar) and some varieties of cheese.
By striving to include a variety of vegetables and other nutritious foods in your daily diet, you can maintain proper electrolyte levels and reap the benefits they have to offer. Optimal health feels GREAT, and this is my wish for YOU!
Keto on, friends, and make it a great week!