The Fizzy Electrolyte Dance
|Photo credit: reddit user u/cata_tonic (2010)|
I think the "vitamin water" craze has nearly killed an extremely important part of human nutrition and self care, meaning, the electrolyte mix industry. I think what happened is, people want to drop something in their water bottle and have it NOT fizz. I think they are annoyed at having to wait until the fizzing stops to put a cap on their Nalgene bottle. But the real value of these electrolytes is in the weak acids and bases they give you along with the minerals. These "buffering salts" are what our bodies need to keep not only hydrated but our blood at the proper pH.
In other words, to be really good for you, an electrolyte drink has to fizz.
If you've ever woken up in the morning with a headache, and then gone to the kitchen to drink a couple of glasses of water, and then the headache goes away, you've been dehydrated and your electrolytes were messed up... slightly. You know how awful it feels. And I've known elderly people who can't stand drinking water, but love electrolyte drinks. Which is handy, since as we get older, our kidneys tend to work less well, and electrolyte drinks have some stuff in them to help our kidneys too. When I was eating everything ketogenic only (that's a diet where you plan it carefully so you're eating at least 70% fat by weight in grams in your food), electrolytes played an even more important part of my life since I"m sensitive to leg cramps that can be triggered by that diet. Electrolytes are important, and very effective food supplements.
So let me define what I mean by a "good" electrolyte mix. It should contain:
- 4 main minerals Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, but other extras are nice too, Manganese, Molybdenum, Zinc, Iodine
- Citric Acid and Malic Acid - if a mineral ends in "citrate" or "malate" or "maleate" then these acids are present
- Carbonates and Bicarbonates - if a mineral ends in "carbonate" or "bicarbonate" then it's present
- Nice extras, at least 500mg Vitamin C, B vitamins (no synthetic folic acid), Vitamins D and K, Choline, Phosphorus
The acids and the bicarbonates will fizz when they enter the water. Leave the carbonates out and your body's only choice is to break down bones to get more carbonate. Let me explain.
The human body is meant to operate at a narrow pH range. A key chemical our body uses in maintaining this range is calcium carbonate which can exist as either a base, or as carbonic acid, depending on circumstances. Messed up electrolytes is one possible reason why otherwise healthy runners may suddenly have cardiac arrest (heart attack). So using an electrolyte drink without any carbonates is sub-optimal in my opinion.
Definition of bicarbonate: An alkaline, vital component of the pH buffering system of the human body that maintains acid–base homeostasis. Reference scroll down to "Chemical Buffering Systems." Ordinary sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is the most familiar bicarbonate.
However, the market will sell you anything you want to buy, even if it doesn't help you very much. If you demand an electrolyte mix that doesn't fizz, or isn't "magnesium carbonate" (I've actually seen people complain of that), then the market will give you that.
Most of the electrolyte mixes I've seen lately are doing exactly that. They provide only citrate and citric acid based electrolytes, ignoring the carbonate side completely, and usually no B vitamins or antioxidants either. Meanwhile, the prices have doubled and tripled. Below you'll find under "Honorable Mentions" the Pedialyte product. If you find the ingredients of it, you'll see that many new electrolyte makers are just copying Pedialyte by not including any carbonates, and they're selling a trimmed down version of it for a lot more money. I don't like that at all. Nothing good will come from such gouging, people will catch on and an FDA backlash (about labeling or health claims) will hurt the entire market, not just those who abuse it.
Here's the good news: Fizzy electrolyte drinks are out of fashion, so they're much cheaper! You can see the effects of demand on pricing very clearly once you start pricing the various electrolyte mixes out there, and including "fizzy" or "effervescent" in the search terms.
Be especially careful of anything that has the word "keto" on it. Ketogenic dieting doesn't require any special or different electrolytes. Electrolytes are popular among keto dieters, but specialty keto products are mainly just gimmicks, and often overpriced. The first red flag should be if it has the word keto on it, the second red flag is if it's being marketed for "weight control." The weight loss profit machine is old, wily and always ready to sell you anything.
Ironically, when in comes to electrolytes, a sign of good quality is the products cheapness. If a product comes in packets and the packets are $1 or $2 per packet, that's suspicious, be sure to read the ingredients carefully. The price should be 25-50 cents per use.
So here are some products that I consider good right now. None are affiliate links. This is just my opinion of what's good out there.
Good Options Available Now and Foreseeable Future:
1. Trace Minerals Power Pak - This is an old product with a new package. Their website says they're a German company, but their package says they're made in the USA and the contact info is Utah. If the term "ConcenTrace" rings a bell for you, this is the same company. As far as I can tell this is the only product that has survived without being ruined over the decades since I was a teenager. It has the advantage of having a nice collection of vitamins in it as well as electrolytes and Vitamin C. Closer to 50 cents per use, but gives you your money's worth.
2. Trace Max-Hydrate - Same company, this product doesn't have all the vitamins, but it does contain malic acid which in my experience helps me with how well I feel. If an electrolyte mix contains it, I tend to go for that one. Very cost effective, there are 80 doses there for $31, that's cheaper than Nuun, which is my current favorite and the next one...
3. Nuun Tri Berry or Tropical Flavors - Like I said, I like the ones with malic acid. Not all the flavors have malic acid, so if that's an important consideration, choose carefully. A pitcher full of 3/4 water, 1/4 fruit juice, three Nuun, or a couple of my last surviving Electro Mix packets, and minor feelings of malaise tend to disappear. I've tried this with just water and no, it doesn't work as well. I wish my body was that simple. *** Certified Gluten Free***
4. Oxylent Packets - These are pricey, but I wanted to provide an alternative to Trace, since Trace has a tiny bit of folic acid in it which can trigger some people's migraines or other ailments. This is manufactured in the USA, claims gluten free, and contains not only electrolytes and carbonates but also a robust set of trademarked vitamins and minerals. The advantage of trademarks being that you know what manufacturing process they used. The disadvantage is, the cost, in this case, they are providing quality for the price. It's still less than $1 per packet, but more than 50 cents.
5. Now Effer-Hydrate - The only thing I wish Now Brand would do is start certifying GF on some of their products. This is a good price, about 31 cents per tab, and hits all the essential requirements, without any frills. It's a great budget buy.
Keto Vitals Packets - Not the powder jars, but the packets that say "original" on them, they have good ingredients, but you can tell the price has been inflated due to the use of the word "Keto." I didn't give this a spot on my list because when I looked at the website, it looks like they are getting rid of this product, so what's the point of getting used to a product that looks like it may go away?
LMNT - This is worth mentioning just for the flavors. Instead of boring old lemon, it's lemon habanero. I like that spunk, but not the price and not the lack of carbonate. While I believe that Robb Wolf is an honest hard working person who came up with the best product in the circumstances, it doesn't suit my needs.
Hydralyte Tablets - I'm not easy in my mind about some of the ingredients like mannitol and maltose in this product. I'm extremely sensitive to small amounts of gluten contamination so I'm easily spooked. But this is also an affordable and potentially acceptable product that has carbonates as well as citrate.
Pedialyte - Available in every supermarket, it's the go-to if you're stuck somewhere on vacation and don't have your usual supplies like you would at home. However it's just meh because their website doesn't claim gluten free, and Abbott's website only claims GF for the unflavored Classic version, which has only Citrates in it, no Carbonates also.
The Roaring 2020's
Summer is coming, and we're going to go out there in the heat, newly vaccinated and feeling like having a big old party! The 20's of the 2000's are on the way, and if you're going to be Roaring, you may as well have some Electrolytes in your pocket. The other use for electrolytes is to recover from hangovers. Thankfully that's not a problem I have anymore since I get sick when I drink now. And I mean, instantly sick. Instant karma keeps me sober, but my body has enough creaky and achy functions to make me reach for the electrolytes regularly anyway.
I've also become dehydrated while picking strawberries and blackberries in a field, while working for the USDA as an intern, while sleeping on the beach, and during stressful days at work when it seems there's no time to drink water. It's just an illusion though, there's always time. But dehydration happens a lot, and these products are more than just frills. Because of them, I can be certain when I say, I am definitely not dehydrated right now (or, I'm not sure), because I pay more attention to my water intake when I'm using them. If all they did was make you pay more attention, that would be enough, but they are also functional.
Have fun out there, but don't forget to hydrate.
DIY Electrolytes and Dehydration Prevention
Electrolyte drinks should be embraced as a good health habit. And you can always make it yourself, just be careful to measure exactly. Excessive potassium can hurt you and has even killed people. So just be cautious if you go the DIY route, because some recipes (not this one) will include powdered potassium bicarbonate which is tricky to measure correctly. The simplest solution might be a combination of coconut water and dissolved Himalayan pink salt.
If you don't like sweet flavors with salty flavors, together (like Gatorade), another dehydration blocker is thinly boiled whole grains with unrefined salt added. The bran of most grains, especially rice, concentrate minerals. So make a Chicken-Rice soup, and save the broth, perhaps making it extra salty, if you prefer to have warm, savory drinks. The Asian tradition of making Congee (rice porridge) can prevent dehydration, and is an elegant option. Ragi porridge is another option. The carbohydrates in many sports drinks help the body to hold on to water, so that water doesn't "pass right through." That's why so many DIY sport drink recipes call for honey or sugar to be added.
California Prop 65, Explained
Have you ever seen those doleful warnings on supplements that say "In the state of California this product contains a substance known to cause cancer" or some such? That law was written in the 1980s. But those warnings didn't really appear on many supplements until after something called the Environmental Research Center came into existence around 2010. ERC began to target supplement companies right away. I mention it now, because ConcenTrace is a product that is sometimes found in electrolyte mixtures and is still the target of negative reviews online, to the point where... products that just contain it as an ingredient can get bad reviews too.
ConcenTrace is a trace mineral product that was targeted around 2014 and paid a settlement and fines for not fully complying with Prop 65. Scroll down that document and see the settlement and results for yourself. ERC went after hundreds if not thousands of supplement companies and there's no guarantee they won't keep doing it. So most supplement companies now just slap the Prop 65 warning on all their products and refuse to answer any questions about it. This has effectively defeated the spirit of the law in my opinion. Here's more to think about. The story of Prop 65 should be a lesson for all of us in writing better and more effective environmental laws.