How much sodium, potassium and magnesium should I have on a ketogenic diet?

By Dr. Stephen Phinney and the Virta Team

In short, 3000-5000 mg of sodium and 3000-4000 mg of potassium on average are needed as part of a well-formulated ketogenic diet. For sodium and potassium (aka electrolytes), rather than trying to track them directly (which is frustrating at best), we recommend salting food to taste, adding 2 grams of sodium as broth or bouillon, and eating 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables daily. For magnesium, 300-500 mg is an initial recommendation. Muscle cramps are our best indicator of depletion, and to replenish one’s intracellular magnesium, we generally recommend 3 tabs per day of Slow-Mag or the generic slow-release equivalent for 3-6 weeks.

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32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I have hart PVC and trying to find the best potassium magnesium foods I can help PVCs trying to find a balance with food intake of the daily requirement for a man what’s the magnesium potassium sodium being of my heart condition and what the foods are and how much to intake to achieve that number, free better functioning heart ECT. Thanks

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Hi Robert. We are unable to provide specific medical advice via this forum. We would encourage you to speak with your physician or a medical provider that is familiar with your medical history.

      Reply

  2. Avatar

    One of the ingredients in Slow-Mag is Maltodextrin. Being on Keto we’re taught to avoid Maltodextrin. Can you please advise and comment on this issue?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      The amount of carbohydrate you will receive from SlowMag is negligible versus what you would find in a food product containing maltodextrin. If you are still uncomfortable with the ingredients, you can find other magnesium supplements that do not contain maltodextrin.

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        Just get mag soothe for night time and mag SRT

        Reply

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for the great work. I believe our human evolutionary history included frequent and perhaps extended stays in ketosis. My question is with the recommended 5 grams sodium and 3 grams potassium (which I can attest to first hand is optimal for me in nutritional ketosis), why do natural foods, vegetables, not contain more sodium? I.e., the ratio of potassium to sodium is heavily skewed towards potassium. I would think it would be about 5/3 ratio. Any one care to comment on my theory? thanks all

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Brannon thank you for such a great question! Dr. Phinney has provided the following response: What an elegant question! Plants evolved to survive and reproduce themselves. They didn’t evolve to please us humans. Well, until the advent of agriculture, when we dirt farmers started propagating the plants that we liked.

      We humans have hearts and arteries and circulating blood that uses sodium to regulate our fluid balance. Plants also have a circulatory system, but it is based on osmosis powered by glucose rather than a heart and sodium. Thus, plants can grow anywhere there is water, airborne CO2, and sunlight. Humans, on the other hand, had to evolve close to the sea or near salt springs to get the minimum sodium we need. Eventually we discovered salt mines and long-distance trade in salt and soy sauce, allowing us to populate inland regions. Note: the Romans elevated this sodium commerce to a fine art, paying their legions in salt (whence the term ‘salary’), with which their soldiers could trade for the remainder of their daily needs.

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        For otherwise healhy people, your comment makes me wonder if the current low salt craze is not harming those of us who do NOT consume those many highly processed foods found in our supermarkets – foods which often contain lots of hidden salt, and for whom the “stay away from salt” warnings might be more appropriate. Those of us on low carb diets who don’t eat highly processed junk foods may actually need more salt to balance our electrolytes better.

        Reply

  4. Avatar

    How much is a serving of non-starchy vegetable? I typically consider 1 ounce raw to be a serving, though when cooked it usually shrinks, and I need to take that into account.

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Raw leafy greens are typically 2 cups per serving or 1 cup if cooked. All other vegetables are 1 cup/serving.

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        I am eating frozen greens(spinach, kale, chards), fresh at supermarkets are not that much nutritious I believe. How much frozen equals fresh greens? How do I calculate the nutrients for frozen greens?

        Reply

        1. Virta Health

          Great question! The serving size for leafy greens is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked for fresh or frozen.

          Reply

  5. Avatar

    when you say 3 tablets of Slo-Mag, should they be taken all at once or spread throughout the day?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Hi! Great question! We recommend dividing the dose for improved absorption.

      Reply

  6. Avatar

    Should the Slo-Mag be taken all at once or 3 times/day?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Thanks for your question, Richard. We recommend dividing the dose for improved absorption.

      Reply

  7. Avatar

    Hi and thank you for a great blog and YouTube videos.
    Is slow mag only one thing, I’ve ordered but could only find the one with calcium as well?
    What is the difference between sodium and salt? I can easily measure 5g of salt but how do I measure 5g of sodium?
    Thank you

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Slow mag does have calcium, so you’ve found the correct product! We don’t recommend specifically tracking sodium as it can be frustrating and inaccurate. We encourage our patients to have 1 cup of bouillon in the morning and afternoon and then to salt their food to taste throughout the day.

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        I make my boullion (bone broth). How do account for how much salt I put in that so this is correct?

        Reply

        1. Virta Health

          You could add it in the beginning when you are cooking the bones by calculating the amount of salt you need based on how much water you add. For example, if the typical ratio is 1/2 teaspoon added to 8 oz of fluid, you would use 2 teaspoons for 32 oz fluid.

          Reply

  8. Avatar

    What are your recommendations on electrolyte levels when water fasting?

    What are your thoughts on using pink salt for potassium while using iodine salt for sodium?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      We don’t recommend fasting. For more information, you can see Dr. Phinney’s post, here: https://blog.virtahealth.com/science-of-intermittent-fasting/

      Pink sea salt is limited in potassium compared to other high potassium foods like dark, leafy greens, avocado or steak.
      You can see a list of high potassium foods here: https://blog.virtahealth.com/potassium-sodium-ketogenic-diet/

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        Using the table from the link, the best case for the advised 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables would only account for half of the daily potassium recommended here. I’m also wondering if there is any way to get close to those numbers on keto without devouring avocados every day.

        Reply

        1. Virta Health

          Morton Lite Salt can be a great option for additional potassium.

          Reply

          1. Avatar
            Denise Hopeman July 26, 2019 at 9:34 am

            How much and how would i use Morton Lite salt in a daily regimen! Ty!

          2. Virta Health

            Thanks for your question Denise! From this post, a half teaspoon of Morton Lite Salt added to food or homemade broth can boost daily potassium intake by 700 mg, while at the same time adding a modest amount of sodium as well.

  9. Avatar

    Huge fan of your science based approach, keep up the good work!

    My question is that do you suggest cutting back on the electrolyte supplementation after the six weeks? I have been keto for years and am still supplementing daily with electrolytes.

    If we cut back what is the reason? Do healthy kidneys adapt to recirculate these minerals after a time? It was my understanding that they do not, but I could be missing something.

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Hi Lance! We don’t recommend decreasing electrolyte supplementation.

      Reply

  10. Avatar

    Hi, I`d like to know how many grams are in 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables.

    Best regards

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Hi! Can you clarify what you mean by grams in a serving?

      Reply

  11. Avatar
    Denise Hopeman July 26, 2019 at 9:51 am

    I had a High Blood Pressure crisis and was in the hospital for 3 days. Strole like symptoms: confusion, garbled speech, couldnt text on my phone as i knew what i wanted to say but brain wouldn’t communicate with fingers! Scary!) I was checked out from head to toe (MRI, sonograms, ekgs stress test -the works!) and the only thing found was i was nearly depleted of all sodium and potassium. I was put on an IV drip for 3 days to get replenished. I had been drinking lots of water daily to avoid constipation and dehydration because i was on one herbal supplement that is diuretic and on hydrochlorathyazide, a diuretic for High Blood Pressure and most recently for the past 6 months had been doing a strict ketogenic diet to support my husband in his keto weight loss program. Keto foods were also constipating for me. So I flushed w water throughout the day trying to prevent it. When dismissed by my specialist, I was told to tread lightly w the herb (Kratom for excruciatingly exhausting painful degenerative disc disease, chronic sciatica and and osteoarthritis) and i was given a different HBP med (Losartan Potassium). None of the 3 specialists considered the effects of a keto diet. Only this morning did i begin wondering and googled!! Its been so helpful to read through your blog and see there are things i can do to support my electrolyte balance and perhaps get myself stable again! I ordered the slow mag and just had my first cup of chicken broth! Im 104 lb, 5’4” 67 year old woman and i dont eat much! Even more strict on keto! Thanks again!

    Reply

  12. Avatar

    Hi I had a question for you. At the beginning of this year I came across a few cases of these military meals ready to eat. In one days time “about 28 hours” I kind of over ate on them. I calculated I ate around 8 grams sodium in 28 hours time from these high sodium meals and didn’t realize how much I ate. The bad part is I made myself puke by sticking my finger down my throat at the end of eating all this stuff… The next day my stomach was on fire and felt like I had ulcers or gastritis. I had a endoscopy done a few weeks later and doctor said my stomach looked okay and normal? He said I have functional dyspepsia. I am just wondering if eating this much sodium would cause stomach issues 8 grams in one day? or did I give myself this problem myself by making myself puke several times… Its been a bad year with my stomach now

    Reply

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