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What Are Electrolytes?

Nutrition Diva: Quick and Dirty Tips for Eating Well and Feeling Fabulous
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Quick & Dirty Tips

Scientific American presents Nutrition Diva by Quick & Dirty Tips. Scientific American and Quick & Dirty Tips are both Macmillan companies.

We throw the term “electrolyte” around a lot these days and most of us have a vague notion of what it means. But how much do you really know about electrolytes? I’ve gotten several questions on this topic lately so today’s show is a crash course on electrolytes: exactly what they are, what they do for you, how much you need, and where to get them.

What Are Electrolytes?
If you ask a chemistry professor to define “electrolyte,” they might say that an electrolyte is a compound which produces ions when dissolved in a solution such as water. These ions have either a positive or negative electrical charge, which is why we refer to these compounds as electro-lytes. If that all sounds like Greek to you, my colleague Lee Falin, host of the Everyday Einstein podcast, has a couple of great episodes that explain more about ions in terms that everyone can understand!

In the world of nutrition, we use the word “electrolyte” more specifically to refer to minerals dissolved in the body’s fluids, creating electrically charged ions. The electrolytes that are the most important in nutrition are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate.

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