Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Is Craving Salt Normal?
- 1. Ditch the Habit of Adding Salt to Your Food
- 2. Meet Your Daily Mineral Needs
- 3. Drink More Water to Steer Clear of Dehydration
- 4. Get Your Adrenal Glands Checked to Avoid Adrenal Fatigue
- 5. Satisfy Your Taste Buds with Healthier Snack Alternatives
- 6. Learn How to Read the Labels
- 7. Pay More Attention to the Food You Eat
Is Craving Salt Normal?
Here’s how to know if you have issues with salt cravings:
- Can’t eat just one salty snack?
- Are those potato chip cravings just one of many salty desires your body asks for every day?
Welcome to the human race! We are hardwired to crave salt, yet those savory desires can lead to big problems.
You need salt for countless processes happening all the time in your personal biochemistry kit—also known as your body. As with many things, when our sodium levels increase, our bodies become unbalanced.
Ever tried following a recipe and accidentally dumped in too much salt? Our blood and tissues have to work hard to balance an overly salty diet, but we can’t just toss out the soup and start over.
The Possible Causes of Salt Cravings
While our body naturally needs salt to function, intense salt cravings may indicate a more complex problem. There are several possible reasons why the body craves sodium intensely:
- You’re dehydrated. When your body’s fluid content starts to drop, your body encourages you to eat or drink more by making you crave a salty snack.
- You need more electrolytes. Your body needs minerals to function properly and most minerals taste salty. When you get the urge to eat more salt, your body may really be asking for more electrolytes.
- You’re under stress. When you’re under unusual stress, your adrenal glands release cortisol to try to control it. Heightened cortisol levels and salt cravings are your body’s way of dealing with stress.
- You could be pregnant. Salt cravings during pregnancy accompany other symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. That’s because vomiting and diarrhea lead to dehydration.
- You’re experiencing premenstrual syndrome. Some women experience mood swings as well as a craving for salty and sweet foods before their periods.
Salt cravings can also be a symptom of more serious health conditions like Addison’s disease and Bartter Syndrome.
Easy Access to Salt Isn’t Helping
Up until relatively recently in human history, it wasn’t that easy for us to find salt. There were some natural salt flats, and people who lived near oceans could scoop up seawater, evaporate the liquid, and scrape up the crystallized salt. All that took time and energy.
To make sure we consume enough of it, human bodies and brains really enjoy salt. When you eat salt, the brain lights up with little hints of pleasure or chemicals, urging you to keep eating it. But now salt is everywhere, and it’s cheap.
We still need it to live, but as a species, we are now eating too much. There, I said it.
Most government health organizations tell us we should be eating 2,300 mg of sodium or less a day. That’s less than one teaspoon or 1,500 mg if you’re over 51 years old, African American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease.
But guess what, most of us consume 8,500 mg a day—more than double the “safe” amount. Most of that comes from processed, pre-packaged food, not the salt we add to the food on our tables.
So that’s the warning. And the reality is we naturally crave salt, it’s easy (maybe too easy) to get, and it’s everywhere.
How to Suppress Salt Cravings
Limiting your sodium intake won’t be easy, but you can start with a few simple steps. Here are seven ways you can begin to unwire your salt cravings and retrain your brain:
1. Ditch the Habit of Adding Salt to Your Food
You may have grown up with parents who put salt on the table and salted their food before even tasting it. It became a habit to add a pinch or dash of salt to most meals.
Now, you’re used to salty foods and low-sodium foods taste boring or bland.
Try cooking your meals with no salt or a fraction of what the recipe calls for and then taste at the table. Serve meals with a fresh quarter of lemon and spritz over your food for added zing.
Use freshly chopped herbs like parsley, mint, scallions, or thyme for added flavor and aroma instead of salt. Add a tiny pinch of salt if you still need more flavor.
2. Meet Your Daily Mineral Needs
Our bodies need zinc, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and other trace minerals to stay healthy and power countless neurochemical reactions that manage your blood and hormones. You will keep craving salt until your body has enough minerals.
Filling your diet with leafy greens will help you get more minerals into your body and control your craving for salt.
3. Drink More Water to Steer Clear of Dehydration
Sodium works for us by keeping water in our bodies long enough to hydrate our cells.
When you become dehydrated, you need a little more salt to steady your electrolytes, which are mineral salts that conduct electricity in your tissues and retain the water you need.
Exercise, alcohol consumption, and even a high-salt diet can all lead to dehydration.
When you drink alcohol, stay hydrated (and more sober) by drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic drink. You’ll also look and feel better in the morning!
4. Get Your Adrenal Glands Checked to Avoid Adrenal Fatigue
Salt cravings can also be a sign of low-functioning adrenal glands and may show up as super-low blood pressure. So even though high blood pressure is bad, low blood pressure isn’t necessarily good either.
Adrenaline overproduction can be a result of a stressed-out lifestyle and can lead to adrenal fatigue.
5. Satisfy Your Taste Buds with Healthier Snack Alternatives
People accustomed to eating a salty treat or two every day may find it hard to suddenly go cold turkey. Instead of satisfying your cravings with french fries, pretzels, or potato chips, substitute them with healthier options instead.
Here are some snacks to satisfy your cravings without spiking your daily salt intake:
- Air-popped popcorn
- Hummus and peanut butter
- Avocados on sourdough toast
- Cottage cheese on unsalted crackers
6. Learn How to Read the Labels
Just because they’re salad dressings doesn’t necessarily mean they’re healthy. Pre-packaged dressings can still contain high amounts of sodium.
Salt is a common preservative for a variety of processed foods. With it, products can stay on the shelf “fresh” for weeks or even months.
Don’t mistake a packet of pre-packaged food as one serving size. A small package can have more than one serving size.
The nutrition label then refers to the fat, carbohydrate, and salt content for every serving. Suppose a bag of chips is equivalent to three serving sizes, and each contains 400 mg of sodium.
Let’s do some math. If you eat everything, then it means you already consumed 1,200 mg of sodium!
7. Pay More Attention to the Food You Eat
It’s true, fresh fruits and veggies , unsalted nuts, sunflower seeds, and olives are amazing food substitutes for your salt craving. These are what you should eat when craving salt as they’re less likely to contain a lot of sodium.
Note, though, eating too much of something can still be bad for your health. If you have diabetes, you cannot eat a lot of fruits with high sugar even though it’s natural.
Most nuts have high levels of fat, so you can’t munch as many as you like in a day. Olive oil is great for salads and some cooking, but a tablespoon of it can have 119 calories.
Have at least four to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and sustain your satiety by eating healthy snacks in between meals. A handful of nuts or seeds will do.
You can also follow a highly recommended diet called DASH. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
It is a science-backed approach to eating well and promotes a balanced diet since it doesn’t eliminate any food group.
What Happens When the Salt Cravings Still Don’t Stop?
Earlier, we talked about what causes salt cravings. In reality, they’re a sign something is wrong with your body, and you need to pay more attention to it.
What happens, though, if you don’t? Here’s how craving salty food can potentially destroy your body:
1. Adrenal Crisis
This can occur when your adrenal function goes haywire. It is a life-threatening condition that results in dehydration, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and shock.
2. Chronic Kidney Disease
Also known as CKD, it refers to irreparable damage to the kidneys. These bean-shaped organs cannot filter and eliminate wastes and excess salt and water from the body.
People who have a high intake of salt are at risk of developing CKD due to increased odds of high blood pressure (hypertension). Too much sodium prevents the kidneys from getting rid of excess water.
In turn, fluids and sodium stay in the bloodstream. This forces the body to work harder to move the fluids so high blood pressure happens.
Hypertension can eventually damage nephrons, which is the kidney’s structural unit. It can also destroy the blood vessels within the organ.
3. Cardiovascular Disease
If you don’t do anything with the causes of your salt cravings, you increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disorders.
Hypertension can put a lot of strain on the cardiac muscles and boost the buildup of plaques, which can narrow the blood’s passageway. Over time, the heart will have to pump harder until it experiences wear and tear.
Food cravings of any kind signal some sort of deficiency, either physical (like an under-active adrenal system), emotional (like old family habits), or nutritional (like low mineral levels).
Start looking into your salt cravings and begin to make small changes in your diet. Consider having your hormone levels checked to make sure you have everything covered.
A lower sodium diet can have great overall health benefits, so it’s definitely a worthwhile lifestyle change.
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Editor’s Note: This post has been published on November 3, 2015, and has been updated on December 7, 2021 for quality and relevancy.