Salt. A few grains can elevate food from bland and tasteless to sublime. Yet, too much of it can bring on problems like high blood pressure, and even increase your risk of developing kidney problems, heart attacks, or stroke.1 For some people, salt cravings can mean they’re eating much more salt than their body needs. But what brings on these cravings? And are they a sign of some underlying problem or deficiency?
How Much Is Too Much?
So how do you know when your love of salty foods is getting out of hand? Is it that you just like a little more salt than those around you, or do you actually crave salt? While the human body contains about 250 gm of sodium across body fluids like blood, urine, and sweat, you need to take in as little as 200 mg a day.2
In fact, the WHO guidelines suggest consumption of no more than 5 gm of salt (delivering under 2,000 mg of sodium) every day. That’s under a teaspoon of salt a day across all meals and snacks.3 If you end up consuming more than these levels of salt thanks to your love of salty foods and irrepressible cravings, you may need to do something about it.
What’s Causing Your Salt Cravings?
To figure out how to battle your cravings for all things salty, you may need to first figure out why it is that you crave so much salt. Here are some of the common conditions that could cause salt cravings.
Excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, or insufficient fluid intake can cause you to become dehydrated and even bring on salt cravings. That’s because you lose a lot of sodium from your body along with the water you expel during urination or sweating, or when you pass watery stools. To compensate for this loss of sodium, and to restore the balance of salts in your system, your body naturally craves salty foods. Which is why rehydration solutions for those who are dehydrated usually contain mineral salts as well as sugar to help restore the balance.4
2. Post Exercise Cravings
If you find yourself craving salty foods after a workout, it could be simply that your body is trying to replace sodium lost through sweat during exercise. In one study, researchers evaluated pre- and post- workout preference for amount of salt in a bowl of tomato soup. They used students who did not work out as controls and measured pre-exercise preference as the baseline. The research revealed that there was a 50 percent increase in salt needed to adequately flavor the soup to the students’ liking after they worked out, compared to controls and baseline.5
3. Mineral Deficiency
Mineral deficiencies too may cause a craving for salty foods. There’s a delicate balance between the levels of salts and minerals in your body. Sometimes, not having enough potassium, calcium, or even iron, might make you crave salt.6
4. Addison’s Disease
Those with Addison’s disease experience a total or very severe deficiency of adrenal hormones, including aldosterone which regulates water and salt levels. If you have this problem, you may experience extreme fatigue, appetite loss, weight loss, low blood pressure, muscle spasms and weakness, nausea, light-headedness, diarrhea, vomiting, or even depression and irritability. The body doesn’t keep its balance of salts correctly when you have Addison’s disease. As excessive amounts are lost, you find yourself craving salty foods to replace the lost salt.7
5. Salt Addiction
Now, researchers say that your cravings may be a sign of a more deep-seated salt addiction. Researchers have said that there is neuropsychiatric evidence of salty foods having an effect similar to a mild opiate. Dubbed a “Salted Food Addiction,” this addiction to salt stimulates dopamine and opiate receptors in your brain’s pleasure and reward center. This makes you find salty food more tasty, bringing on an urge or craving for them when you experience opiate withdrawal.8
|↑1||Health Risks and Disease Related to Salt and Sodium. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑2||Salt and your health, Part I: The sodium connection. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑3||WHO issues new guidance on dietary salt and potassium. WHO.|
|↑4||Treating dehydration. NHS.|
|↑5||Leshem, M., A. Abutbul, and R. Eilon. “Exercise increases the preference for salt in humans.” Appetite 32, no. 2 (1999): 251-260.|
|↑6||Beauchamp, Gary K., and Karl Engelman. “High salt intake. Sensory and behavioral factors.” Hypertension 17, no. 1 Suppl (1991): I176.|
|↑7||Addison’s disease. National Adrenal Diseases Foundation.|
|↑8||Cocores, James A., and Mark S. Gold. “The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic.” Medical hypotheses 73, no. 6 (2009): 892-899.|