It’s NOT “Just” Sweat 8


It turns out the ubiquitous little dish of lentils at every Panamanian meal is what keeps their electrolytes topped up and prevents dehydration.

If, doing what you do, you would ordinarily “break a sweat,” then here in Panama – in the tropics – sweat will pour off you by the bucketful. Nobody – sorry, Southern ladies – NOBODY “glows” here. Rather, you liquify.

The thing is, if you aren’t careful, it’s very easy to get dehydrated.

Which is not fun.

Yes, you get thirsty. But quarts of water won’t quench that thirst. And you also get very tired, a bit fog-brained, sometimes disoriented, and sometimes you get muscle cramps.

In fact, I have such a habitual “suck-it-up-and-power-through-it” approach to things that by the time I realize I’ve dehydrated myself, I almost always have muscle cramps.

So not fun.  Definitely a habit to re-think.

Yesterday I overdid it cleaning house. It was hot and humid, and the sweat was pouring off me, but I was so focused I didn’t notice. When I finally quit and plopped onto the bed for a “wee rest,” my right bicep went into spasm, my left calf charley-horsed, the toes on both feet curled involuntarily, and my right hand clamped up. I mean, OW.

You see, when you sweat heavily, you are not just losing water. What one of my acquaintances tosses off as “just sweat” is actually a very complex substance containing electrolytes. These little dudes maintain the fluid balance in your body and its pH, and conduct the electricity that allows your neurons to fire, your muscles (including your heart!) to move, and your brain to think.

So the bucket of liquid I had just produced was not “just sweat,” not just water, but a great deal of the sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous I needed to stay alive. And now I was possibly in a state of potentially serious mineral deficiency, in a form that could lead to death if not properly treated.

Three glasses of limon water later I was still cramping. I didn’t have the energy to get myself to the hospital, so I decided to eat my problem away. I made a smoothie. Milk (calcium and potassium) and bananas (potassium), a dash of salt (for some sodium), and a spoonful of peanut butter (more sodium). I figured that those ingredients, in combination with the three limones in the water I had already drunk (citrus is excellent for replacing calcium and potassium) would do either do the trick or I was really going to have to find my keys.

Five minutes later I was fine.

Why didn’t I just hit the Gatorade? Well, I didn’t have any in the house. I don’t like the stuff. I don’t much care for sugary drinks of any kind, but I particularly don’t like Gatorade. So I didn’t have any on hand. Is there any other drink I might have used? Indeed. Chocolate milk is quite good for replacing electrolytes, and so is coconut water. Both are readily available in Panama, although I had neither on hand at the time.

Want to make your own “Electrolyte Drink”? Just add a bit of salt or baking soda to a jug of water, add some citrus juice and sweeten to taste with honey or whatever. Or you can get step by step instructions on doing that here (click link).

Why don’t Panamanians have the same kind of dehydration issues that we expats do? I suspect it might have something to do with the daily intake of lentils. You almost can’t get a meal here that doesn’t have a small dish of lentils, and it turns out lentils are excellent for replacing electrolytes.  How about that.  Learning that goes a long way toward explaining how the men here can toil in the sun for hours without keeling over.

And realizing that coffee is a diuretic explains why it isn’t a more common and popular beverage, although most delicious, in a country that grows and exports it.

What other electrolyte producing foods besides lentils are readily available here in Panama? Here are a few:  green olives, meats, cheese, salty foods (peanut butter!), processed meats (Spam? Ew.), milk, bananas, raisins, bok choy, chinese cabbage, citrus (oranges & limones), brown rice, avocados, broccoli, and tomatoes.

You can get a more extensive list of electrolyte encouraging foods here (click link), but  not all of them are readily available in most of Panama.

The bottom line is that it is simple common sense to pay attention to potential dehydration and keep a supply of things to counteract it on hand.

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