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What is chloride?

Chloride is the ion name for chlorine. Chlorine is an atom that is most comfortable when it removes an electron from another atom and as a result takes on a negative charge (Cl–). Sodium and potassium as electrolytes often overshadow chloride, but chloride should not be underestimated in importance. Furthermore, chloride is involved in some interesting aspects of protein digestion as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) elimination from the body.


What foods provide chloride in the diet?

Although some fruits and vegetables contain respectable amounts of chloride, the natural content of this mineral in most foods is naturally low. Chloride, as part of sodium chloride (table salt) added to foods, is the major contributor of chloride in our diet. Sodium chloride is 60 percent chloride by weight, thus 1 g of table salt is 600 mg chloride. The minimum requirement for chloride for an adult is about 700 mg per day, yet the average American diet contains about six times this amount.


How much chloride do we need daily?

The AI for chloride is 2.3 grams for younger adults and teens which includes pregnancy and lactation. Since chloride is a key component of sweat, people who sweat profusely such as athletes, may need a little more sodium which is easily provided in foods. The AI for chloride decreases to 2.0 grams for people over 51 and then 1.8 grams over the age of 70.


What does chloride do in the body?

Similar to sodium and potassium, chloride functions as an electrolyte. In fact, chloride is the major negatively charged electrolyte in human extracellular fluid, which includes the blood. Chloride is important in the optimal functioning of excitable cells, which once again are nervous tissue and muscle. It is also part of hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is a key component of stomach juice.


Furthermore, chloride is important in helping the body to remove CO2. This process is very complex and involves changing CO2 into a substance called carbonate that will dissolve more easily into the blood. Remember, gases such as O2 and CO2 do not dissolve very well in watery human blood. Therefore, the blood either carries them on hemoglobin (mostly O2) or converts CO2 to a more water-soluble substance. This allows for more and more CO2 to be circulated to the lungs and breathed out of the body.


What happens if too little or too much chloride is consumed?

In light of Americans’ heavy use of salt in food manufacturing, processing, and seasoning in the kitchen and at the table, chloride deficiencies are very rare. As mentioned, Western diets contain many times the estimated minimum requirement for chloride. Thus the potential for deficiency is believed to be rather low and is rarely seen. However, heavy, prolonged sweating can cause excessive loss of chloride which in turn could impact the activity of muscle and the nervous system. However the consumption of food and beverages will recover lost chloride. Sport drinks and related products provide chloride for endurance athletes.


On the other hand, like sodium and potassium chloride is almost entirely absorbed from the digestive tract. Therefore, the responsibility of body chloride regulation is placed upon the kidneys. Provided that the kidneys are functioning properly, the risk of chloride toxicity is not necessarily a major concern either. However, if the kidneys are not functioning optimally this can result in elevations in the chloride in body fluid along with the other electrolytes. This then would most obviously affect the proper functioning of excitable cells in the body, although all cells would become compromised.



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