5 causes of salt cravings – and the solutions
Salt, or Sodium, is an essential mineral in the body. Craving salt is an intense desire to consume salty food, and is different from normal hunger. It is controlled by the brain.
Here are five reasons why you may be craving salt, what to do about it, and what foods can help combat it.
Your adrenal glands (which sit at the top of your kidneys) are responsible for releasing hormones in response to stress. They also produce the hormone that is responsible for regulating the level of salt and fluid in your blood.
When you get stressed, your adrenal glands become less effective – leading to adrenal fatigue and exhaustion – and they won’t produce the right amount of hormones. And when your hormone levels get too low, your kidneys will excrete too much salt, leading to salt cravings to help your body restore its balance.
What to do:
1) Get yourself into a regular rhythm. Wake up, eat, and go to bed at the same times every day. It will help reorganise your natural balance and help level your hormones.
2) Address the stress in your life; deal with the root cause.
3) Exercising regularly, deep breathing, massage, meditation, or practising yoga can help you to relax.
4) A few cups of homemade bone broth per day has been proven to be beneficial for stress levels. It contains minerals and trace minerals in an easily digestible form.
2. Excessive sweating
When you sweat excessively, it can lead to dehydration. And when you’re dehydrated, you lose water, salt, and electrolytes from your body. This can lead to craving salt and salty food.
Not drinking enough water can also make you dehydrated leading to you craving salt.
What to do:
1) Taking sports drinks during an exercise can help as most are rich in sodium and will help replace the missing electrolytes.
2) Drinking enough fluid throughout the day will prevent you from being dehydrated. A good indicator to help you check if you are properly hydrated is the colour of your urine. If your urine is pale in colour throughout the day then you are properly hydrated. If the colour of your urine drifts into a darker colour and it comes with a smell then you need to be drinking more water.
3) Herbal or fruit tea is a good alternative to water. It can help you to keep your hydration levels up throughout the day.
3. Hormonal changes
Before your menstrual period, your hormones change. Your oestrogen level drops and your progesterone level increases. The monthly fluctuations of these hormones has been linked to food cravings. Oestrogen decreases hunger by directly affecting the appetite centre in the brain, while progesterone stimulates the appetite.
These hormones also have an impact on salt cravings. As women approach ovulation, high oestrogen activate a feel-good feeling in the brain which makes them want to eat more salt. And during the last half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone increases the appetite for salt to help get more sodium into the body to balance the fluid.
What to do:
1) Eat whole, unprocessed food that is low in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
2) Include vegetables like kale, broccoli, and spinach which can help balance hormones.
3) Make sure you get regular exercise.
You may be used to adding salt to your food and continue to do this out of habit. This can become addictive and you’ll crave more of it. Neurological systems in the brain can cause an addiction to certain foods (such as those high in salt) and salted food can stimulate the pleasure and reward centre in the brain, and cause you to crave more.
What to do:
1) 80% of salt consumption comes from processed food. You can train your taste buds, so avoid fast processed food or eating out. Your taste bud receptor cells only live for about two weeks and then they get replaced. So the less salt you consume, the less you’ll crave it.
5. Mineral deficiency
Salt cravings could be caused by a mineral deficiency. For example, the mineral zinc is essential for the sense of taste and smell. If you’re deficient in zinc, you may not adequately taste your food, and you may add salt to give it flavour.
You may also crave salt when you have a potassium deficiency. Potassium is the most common electrolyte inside your cells, and sodium is the common electrolyte outside your cells. You can lose these electrolytes when you sweat, vomit, or have diarrhoea.
A deficiency in magnesium can also lead to salt cravings. Magnesium helps in the absorption of other minerals.
Poor nutrition can also cause a mineral deficiency and increase craving salt.
What to do about it
1) Make and drink homemade bone broth. It is rich in minerals and in an easily digestible form. Just 1-2 cups per day can be super beneficial. You can also use it in your cooking.
2) Add good quality salt (such as Himalayan salt) to your vegetables to help increase your mineral and trace mineral intake.
3) Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, quality protein, and healthy fats. Make sure you include dark green leafy vegetables which are rich in magnesium.
If you can’t live without it
When you experience salt cravings, sometimes your body may actually need salt. However, you should avoid any kind of processed or refined table salt, and opt for a good quality salt such as Himalayan salt.
If your salt craving isn’t satisfied by eating something salty, you should seek advice from a doctor, who will be able to check if there are any underlying health problems.