Autumn 2021 True Natural Health Magazine – Your Questions Answered
By Roger French
QUESTION: During bushwalking, gardening, long-distance running, sustained gym work or any other activity which causes prolonged perspiring, the standard advice is to take salt, salt tablets or sports drinks high in sodium, the key ingredient in salt. This does prevent dehydration, cramps and other problems, but is this the best advice for health in regular exercise?
It’s true that during prolonged sweating we may need to consume extra salts. The recommendation to top up ‘salt’ implies table salt, the chemical compound, sodium chloride, which consists of just two minerals, sodium and chlorine. This may help in a bout of extreme sweating, but is not the best way and is not suitable for the long-term.
For the body to function normally, we need more than two dozen minerals. In my Diploma of Clinical Nutrition, this was a major point, with emphasis on the harm caused by excess sodium in the body. The is medically known to be a significant factor in high blood pressure (inviting stroke and heart attack), fluid retention, artery damage, kidney damage and arthritis.
In the typical Western diet, the high consumption of table salt is causing a large imbalance in our intake of two key minerals, sodium and potassium.
Balance of sodium and potassium
These two minerals work together in balancing fluids outside and inside the cells. Potassium holds fluid inside cells, while sodium holds fluids outside the cells, meaning in the tissue fluids and bloodstream.
Because the kidneys normally retain sodium and excrete potassium, we require much more potassium than sodium, and, accordingly, every natural food contains more potassium than sodium. For example, strawberries contain 22 times as much potassium as sodium, oranges typically 50 times as much, cherries 250 times as much, dates 52 times, beetroot 5 times, red (ripe) capsicum 180 times, celery 3 times, lettuce 10 times, rice 30 times, oats 100 times and whole-wheat flour 60 times as much. (In the flesh world, it is still similar: bream and flathead (raw) 4 times, steak 5 ̶ 7 times.)
Yet the typical Australian diet contains about five times more sodium than potassium ̶ entirely the wrong way around. This is solely due to the use of refined salt on the dining table or in processed foods.
The best amount of refined salt to consume is none, but if some salt is required for flavour or to urgently prevent or overcome dehydration, it is tolerable to use small quantities of unrefined sea salt or, better still, Himalayan pink rock salt (containing over 80 minerals). In everyday living, we can obtain all the minerals we need from a high intake of fresh vegetables and fruits ̶ ideally whole-food plant-based eating.
We can obtain sodium from natural sources (or close to natural sources), which include sea kelp, silverbeet, celery, tahini, beetroot, carrot, dried figs, lettuce, broccoli, English spinach, cucumber, egg and yoghurt.
Do sports drinks provide an answer for sweating?
I have looked at just two examples of sports drinks ̶ Hydralyte and Gatorade. The purpose of a sports drink is to rapidly restore fluid and electrolytes (minerals) and prevent dehydration due heavy sweating ̶ or to other causes, including vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and alcohol.
Water is the best hydration fluid to consume on a daily basis. However, if you experience dehydration or prolonged sweating which could lead to dehydration and loss of minerals, a rehydration (sports) drink can correct the balance of fluid and electrolytes very quickly.
Hydralyte produces a wide range of rehydration drinks with different flavours. The basic ingredients are glucose, sodium, potassium, chloride and citrate.
Hydralyte™ Sports is low in sugar (2%) and high in electrolytes. Its active ingredients are glucose, citric acid, sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese.
Gatorade also offers a wide range of rehydration drinks with different flavours. Only the key ingredients are stated in the website, although the range of minerals is likely to be similar to those in Hydralyte Sports.
G2 Low Sugar Sports Drink contains 2% sugar, 276 mg sodium and 78 mg potassium in a 600 ml bottle. This is a sodium-to-potassium ratio of 3.5.
Both brands contain much more sodium than potassium. However, I have no doubt that they achieve their purpose of correcting or preventing dehydration during heavy sweating.
The adverse sodium to potassium ratio makes them unsuitable for long-term supply of fluid. In fact, the Hydralyte website sensibly acknowledges that water is the best drink in the long-term.