Electrolytes are electrically charged particles that help ensure proper bodily function. The most familiar types include potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. Potassium and sodium promote water balance in your body, and calcium and magnesium allow your muscles to relax and contract. Because you lose electrolytes through sweat, spending time in hot weather or exercising intensely increases your need for these nutrients. A variety of healthy foods can help you meet your electrolyte needs.
The standard recommended intake of potassium for adults ages 19 and older is 4.7 grams, or 4,700 milligrams, per day. "Very good" potassium sources, which contain 300 or more milligrams per serving, include milk, yogurt, bananas, potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, prunes, raisins, fish and poultry. One medium to large banana provides 450 to 600 milligrams.
Like other electrolytes, sodium is essential. Consuming too much, however, increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Because most foods naturally contain sodium, deficiencies are rare. If you've lost sodium through heavy perspiration or other means of fluid loss, such as vomiting or diarrhea, eating sodium-rich foods is important. For moderate amounts of sodium, consume low-fat milk, yogurt, whole-wheat bread, English muffins or eggs, all of which provide between 100 and 200 milligrams per serving. Most fresh fruits, juices and vegetables contain less than 50 milligrams per serving. Canned and processed foods are high in sodium, but generally less nutritious than whole foods.
Women ages 19 to 50 should consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. In addition to functioning as an electrolyte, calcium promotes strong, healthy bones. Dairy products are top calcium contributors in the United States. One cup of low-fat yogurt provides 415 milligrams of calcium, and nonfat milk provides 299 milligrams per cup. Dairy products also contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Nondairy calcium sources include fortified orange juice, which provides 375 milligrams per cup; sardines, which provide 315 milligrams per 3 ounces; and tofu, which provides 250 milligrams per half-cup. Green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage, contain moderate amounts of calcium.
As an electrolyte, magnesium supports muscle and nerve function. It also contributes to strong immune system function and bone health. Eating a broad variety of nuts, whole grains, legumes and vegetables can help you meet your magnesium requirement, which is 300 milligrams per day for women ages 31 and up. One-quarter cup of wheat bran, 1 ounce of roasted almonds and 1/2 cup of cooked spinach provide roughly 80 to 90 milligrams of magnesium. Raisin bran cereal, cashews, mixed nuts and bran flakes provide about 65 to 75 milligrams per serving. Other valuable sources include oatmeal, peanut butter, potatoes and lentils.
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