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Nutrition Column

Synopsis of Eat Right - Electrolyte

Electrolytes. They seem like an easy enough concept. When we lose fluid from our body we also lose electrolytes and therefore, must replenish them with a dazzling array of sports drinks. Or, at least, this is how simple it's made out to be. Unfortunately, just because you've read the back of a Gatorade bottle, doesn't mean you know all there is to know about electrolytes!

Understanding the complex role that electrolytes play in our bodies and health and knowing the scope of information and misinformation available to the public, Dr. W. Rex Hawkins authored Eat Right-Electrolyte: A Nutritional Guide to Minerals in Our Daily Diet . In his book, Dr. Hawkins sets the record straight on electrolytes, particularly salt, by reviewing the cold, hard, scientific research (unlike many others who make unsubstantiated claims). Through the course of the book it becomes abundantly clear that dietary salt is a major factor in the development of several diseases that collectively affect hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.

While it is common knowledge that dietary salt makes us thirsty, the other findings should make us wonder why salt is still common. One of the biggest problems with excess dietary salt is that it raises our blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, and heart failure. In addition, it causes damage to the arteries of the brain that leads to early-onset dementia as well as damage to the arteries of the kidney leading to hemodialysis. All of these affects are life threatening. What's amazing is that following a low sodium diet (often referred to as the DASH diet) of 1150 mg per day can reduce blood pressure by 8.9 mmHg. This may not sound like much but it corresponds to a 46% decrease in incidence of the aforementioned afflictions.

Aside from presenting the facts about what salt does to our bodies, Dr. Hawkins also explores where we get excess dietary salt. It's not surprising that as America becomes more and more of an on-the-go society, food is also coming in more on-the-go preparations. "Packaged food is not only high in sodium but also low in potassium because among food processors there is the perception that potassium adds a bitter note to food and so it should be minimized" (76). So, packaged food not only adds sodium, an electrolyte we already have in excess, it minimizes potassium, a vital electrolyte that our bodies are starving for.

This is just a savory, salty taste of what Eat Right-Electrolyte has to offer. There is also proof that dietary salt encourages the formation of kidney stones, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, asthma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and Crohn's disease. It certainly is a lot to think about the next time you reach for the saltshaker.

Written by Natalie Noto, B.A. Kinesiology, Occidental College.