Right this very second, you have electrically charged minerals coursing throughout your body. Every human needs electrolytes to live (they literally keep your heart beating!) and it seems that most humans are deficient in one or more of these: Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium – the big 3; then we have Calcium, Chloride, Phosphate, and Bicarbonate.
We absorb these essential minerals through the food and drinks we consume. Food and drinks that are often lacking in all of the above. On top of that, sometimes, our bodies aren’t very good at absorbing what little we receive from our daily diet – even worse when we’re sick and losing fluids rapidly, or taking certain medications, or fasting, or working out, or trying to lose weight by cutting calories, or drinking waaaay more, or a hundred other random reasons.
Basically, it’s a delicate balance.
Your body is extremely intelligent about maintaining that balance and delegating resources to avoid adverse reactions, especially when limited. That’s why slight deficiencies go unnoticed for the most part. But sometimes, your super smart body could use a bit of help with its natural spark.
When you try out something new, especially a new way of eating, many folks try to do the whole shebang and they go at it hard. They try to exercise more, eat better, and eat less. Doing all at once can be a catastrophe, an absolute recipe for disaster! Not only are you already likely a bit deficient in some of these essential minerals – you’re losing them faster and barely replacing any of them.
Kind of a detrimental bummer in the middle of your noble quest to a healthier version of yourself. The side effects of missing electrolytes can be mild, subtle things that you get used to or overcome as your body adapts to your new lifestyle or smaller figure. Or they can be so severe that they threaten your life.
You might recall a time when you decided the New Year would be the New You! And you started eating/drinking less, working out every day, and… getting leg cramps every night? Or feeling dizzy and foggy during the day? Maybe your fingers started to tingle or go numb? There are a lot of different side effects when you’re missing some of these electrolytes, and none of them are fun:
- Brain Fog
- Digestive Upset
- Irregular Heartbeat
An imbalance in electrolytes might be easily improved by simply eating/drinking a little bit more overall. If that’s not possible, then at minimum, it would be extremely beneficial to include nutrient dense superfoods a few times a week.
No matter what kind of diet you choose to follow, you’ve gotta get those minerals. The best way to get them is from your food, especially meat. Next up are vegetables and fruits/grains. Finally, supplements. If you’re struggling while following a lower carb way of eating, you’ll find a few ideas below that can help amp up your nutrition.
Our bodies are extremely efficient at breaking down and using just about everything we can get from meat.
Meaty Superfood: Liver
Beef, poultry, fish – all liver seems to pack a serious punch. I’m not particularly fond of ANY kind of liver, but I can’t deny the extremely high level of minerals and vitamins it contains including: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Selenium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and B-12, and so much more.
Check out the nutrition stats on a whole bunch of different types of liver on the USDA’s official FoodData Central Database:
If you’re anything like me and just – cannot – with the liver, check out Dena Norton’s tips and recipe ideas on Back to the Book Nutrition. She offers up a great article featuring 3 Ways to Eat Liver Without Tasting It.
Seeing as liver is not my first choice and a rarity in our kitchen, I opt for a variety of meat throughout the week that rank well on the electrolyte scale including: wild caught salmon, organic beef and chicken, eggs, and shrimp. Occasionally, we’ll include pork and other types of poultry.
We’ve also tried bone broth, but again, the taste just wasn’t for me. That said, if you’re low on sodium and other electrolytes, broths are a great starting point.
This might be a bit of a rant, bare with me though.
When you’re trying to eat low carb, many high carb vegetables get the axe, like the beloved and versatile potato. It’s a staple in many diets for most people across the world. It was one of mine, for sure.
Along with its higher carb count, potatoes contain massive amounts of potassium – 1 large potato can contain upwards of 900+ mg of potassium alone! So it’s no wonder that anyone removing it from their diet might struggle to replace those nutrients, in fact – they might not think about it at all and start to suffer symptoms from not getting enough potassium and other vital minerals without knowing why. They’ll blame the type of diet rather than realizing they never replaced a staple food with something of equal value nutrition-wise.
So… did you used to love all-things potato, all day, every day? And now that it’s gone, you’re left with muscle cramps, fatigue, constipation, or maybe even weird heart rhythms? Yikes! It’s time to change that. Rather than going back to your good old high carb friend, the potato, there are lots of alternatives that offer EVEN MORE potassium and other essential nutrition that’ll help with these kind of symptoms.
Veggie Superfood: Spinach or other dark, leafy greens (ie swiss chard)
To be completely honest, I grew up hating spinach. My mom always used the kind that came in the frozen bricks and they were so bitter tasting to my young buds. Like, not in a good way at all. Luckily, I grew up, learned how to sauté greens and balance that bitterness. Spinach is now my preferred staple and alternative to other potassium-dense food. Did you know that just one of those small bricks of frozen spinach (about 10oz) contain well over 1000+mg of potassium and only about 4g net carbs compared to a large potato’s 50g+ net carbs?? Yep… 10oz of spinach also has lots of calcium, magnesium, and sodium at over 200+mg each.
Check out the nutrition stats on spinach on the USDA’s official FoodData Central Database:
There are tons of other lower cab vegetables out there that can help amp up your electrolytes beyond leafy greens (to a lesser degree), such as zucchini, broccoli, artichokes, mushrooms, and more.
Fruits, Grains, Nuts, Dairy
Did you know that grains are fruit? It’s kinda like the square/rectangle situation – all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, etc. etc. etc. Well, all grains are fruit but not all fruit are grains. Technically, vegetables/fruits/grains/legumes are all just plants, and these are just different ways to define which part of the plant your food comes from.
That’s kinda fun but I believe it’s easier for our brains to learn about and understand how different foods impact our systems by separating and categorizing them accordingly. Anywho!
Many following a low carb lifestyle avoid most fruits and grains like the plague. Much like our beloved potato above, they get the axe or seriously limited. These types of foods aren’t just high in carbs because they’re high in sugar or high in fiber, but also because they’re high in key nutrients and electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
The bottom line is: just because it’s full of carbs doesn’t mean they’re empty carbs. If you’re limiting carbs then make. them. count.
If your diet used to be full of fruits and grains and you no longer want to include them in your everyday diet, you’ll need to find some decent alternatives so your baseline level of health doesn’t suffer in their absence.
I don’t have one particular superfood for this category, but rather a modest list of ideas to share. All contain decent amounts of electrolytes but you must be cautious in how much you choose to consume in a day because not only can these carbs add up quickly, some folks are also very sensitive to fiber, lactose, and other aspects contained in these types of food. Be sure to look up the nutrition stats on these to see if they fall in line with your body’s needs:
- Nuts: Almonds, Cashews, Brazil
- Cocoa/Dark Chocolate
- Beans: Black Soybean, Edamame, Lima
- Seeds: Flax, Pumpkin, Chia, Hemp
- Yogurt: Full Fat and/or Low Sugar
- Cheese: Cheddar, Parmesan, Mozzarella
- Creams: Heavy Whipping, Coconut, Sour Cream
“The degree and rate at which a substance (such as a drug) is absorbed into a living system or is made available at the site of physiological activity.”
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Nothing beats real food when it comes to bioavailability. And meat really is best for humans, but meat isn’t always possible whether by choice or not, and sometimes, our bodies just need more than it can absorb from what we consume.
Whatever amount you choose to take, it’s very unlikely that your body will be able to absorb the nutrients 100%. That doesn’t mean you should up the ante and take more than directed, but it’s something to keep in mind as you dive into the world of sometimes natural but often synthetic pills and powders.
I’m not gunna bore you with a list of brands or options here. That’s all up to you. However, I will impart some wisdom I’ve learned about magnesium supplements: Look for citrate, avoid oxide. Citrate is much easier for our bodies to absorb, oxide is more of a challenge. (source)
Oh and maybe also avoid taking too much magnesium citrate…
It could make you poop. Like, a lot.
Hey! Wow, can’t believe anyone made it all the way down here. Thanks for reading =) Now, on to a bonus:
Many of today’s ready-made and natural food contain an overwhelming amount of sodium so it’s usually the last electrolyte anyone thinks they might be deficient in. But guess what? People starting a low carb diet lose a lot of water very fast and with it goes a lot of electrolytes, including sodium.
Suggestion? You don’t need to go overboard with the salt shaker but don’t be afraid to add a slight bit more than usual to your low carb meals. Unless you have a special condition or you’re feeling extra bloaty (think swollen fingers/ankles), there’s no need to be shy with your sodium intake. You need it.