The Essentials: Sodium and Potassium
Minerals travel in packs. If you look close, you’ll notice that every vegetable has more than one mineral and often times it’s these two: Sodium and Potassium. There’s a pretty good reason for that.
It’s all about the balance. But let’s look at them individually first.
Have you ever had a charlie horse and was told to eat a banana? Maybe after a good workout or any extra physical exercise? That’s because you’ve lost some potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte that directly affects your body’s water levels and comes out when you sweat. It also plays a major role in the ability of your muscles to contract and function properly. See where we’re going with this?
Lack of potassium in the diet = more sweat = even less potassium = muscle cramp. While a banana is indeed a good source of potassium, it’s also a great source of calories. The dark side of a banana goes deeper than just a bruise. In just one cup of banana, there are 201 calories, likely due to the amount of sugar (28 grams per cup, that’s more than a cup of cola!) In order to not bash on bananas too much, let’s switch to a different source of potassium.
You can also likely guess where we’re heading with this part as well.
Cauliflower has what appears to be a small amount of potassium in comparison to banana, with 303mg/cup versus 806mg/cup. However, it’s an eighth a number of calories at a “whopping” 25 per cup. That means you can eat 8 cups of cauliflower to reach a number of calories in a banana. How much potassium is that? The math gives us 2,424mg/8cups. Admittedly, no one wants to eat 8 cups of cauliflower all in one sitting but it does show the wallop that cauliflower packs with essentials. Per calorie, cauliflower has 12mg of potassium whereas banana comes in at 4mg for every calorie.
So far, we’ve learned that potassium is great for the muscles and water in our bodies. It’s also great for blood pressure, however, it needs a buddy to make all this happen most effectively.
Thus, a balance.
While sodium gets a bad rap pretty much across the board (or table, shall we say?) it’s actually an essential nutrient. We’ve talked about what makes something essential already, so let’s talk about what makes this supposed villain essential.
But first, a disclaimer: Sodium is a concern for those with certain complications, and should still be taken seriously. Talk with your doctor about the appropriate amount of sodium in your diet for you. Everyone is different.
Now, onto the benefits. Sodium, like potassium, is an electrolyte, so it acts in much the same way. Sodium works in tandem with potassium to balance and hydrate the body and takes it even a step further by aiding cognitive function, regulating glucose, regulating fluids and maintaining heart health.
Believe it or not, there is something called the “Sodium-Potassium Pump”. This pump exists to regulate the balance between sodium and potassium through your cells. In order for your muscles to contract, sodium has to enter the cell. In response to this, the potassium leaves. This triggers a chain reaction event down the line of your cells, causing multiple reactions from your muscles and other cells that essentially drive your body to perform the task at hand.
If there is not enough sodium or potassium coming in from diet, functionality suffers. The science behind these minerals and how they work is very complex yet very simple. As always, we encourage you to investigate the details!
The body is an amazing mechanism, full of life and energy, as long as we feed it the right fuel.