Have you ever wondered the importance of electrolytes? Why does your body need them and how do they function? Sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium fall under the category of electrolytes. These nutrients have either a positive or negative charge when added to water and are necessary in maintaining fluid balance. The goal is for your body to be in equilibrium, which occurs when your positive and negative electrolytes are balanced. Therefore, consuming adequate amounts of electrolytes is important for health.
Sodium functions outside of your cells by regulating plasma volume, neuromuscular function and acid-base balance. You should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams per day of sodium in your diet. The most common source of sodium is table salt, which is found in large amounts in canned foods and frozen dinners. Also, restaurants typically add a lot of sodium to their foods during preparation. Meat naturally contains sodium; however, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and grains contain little natural sodium.
Most of the calcium in your body can be found in your bones, but a small percentage can be found in the blood, where it functions by responding to balance changes inside your cells. Adults should consume between 1000 and 1300 milligrams per day of calcium, depending on age, gender and nutrition status. Food sources of calcium include dairy products, green vegetables, tofu and fortified products, such as orange juice.
Magnesium functions in nutrient metabolism, bone health, cardiovascular health and the central nervous system. Adults should ingest 310 to 420 milligrams per day, depending on age and gender. Magnesium deficiency is rare in the United States, since the mineral can be found in a variety of foods. Common food sources include green leafy vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, peanuts and whole grains.
Phosphorus plays a critical role in energy and bone metabolism by aiding cellular function and structure. Healthy adults should consume approximately 700 milligrams of phosphorus every day. Typical food sources include dairy products, meats, bran, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, nuts and soybeans.
Potassium functions with sodium in maintaining fluid equilibrium and acid-base balance. Also, it helps your muscles and nerves function properly. Adults should consume 4700 milligrams per day of potassium to maintain health. Common food sources include fresh fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, bananas, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes. Fresh meat, fish, beans, seeds and dairy products are also good sources.
- Krause's Food & Nutrition Therapy; L. Kathleen Mahan, Sylvia Escott-Stump
Laura Michele Oliver received her bachelor's degree in nutrition from Auburn University. She served as a dietetic intern at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where she also graduated with a Master of Science in clinical nutrition. She now works as a registered dietitian in Brooklyn, N.Y.