Know the Science Behind your Salt Craving

We need to consume sodium; it’s an essential mineral that’s critical for maintaining the balance of water and minerals in our bloodstream, contracting and flexing our muscles (including involuntary movements like heartbeats) and conducting nerve signals.

Most experts maintain we only need a small amount of it to perform these functions — 500 mg per day versus the 3,400 mg the average American eats and the recommended maximum of 2,300. Yet we all crave salt at times for physiological or psychological reasons.

Some of the things you need to watch out for to prevent these cravings from getting the upper hand include:

  • Dehydration — This may be the most common physical symptom to cause you to crave salt or sodium, and it can occur because you’re not drinking enough fluid or when you’re battling a stomach virus that’s causing you to lose a lot of fluid. Drinking more water is the easiest way to resolve both the dehydration and the cravings.
  • Intense exercise — Sweating is another way your body loses fluid and sodium, and while most physical activity won’t deplete your stores enough to cause a problem, an intense workout like a cardio class that lasts more than an hour can be enough to draw your sodium level down to problematic level. In this case you may actually need more salt, which can be found in salty but otherwise healthy snacks like nuts or electrolyte-rich drinks.
  • Stress — Coping with chronic stress can affect your hormonal balance in many ways and one that many people have reported is a craving for salt. Scientists still are investigating the possible underlying reasons for this, but if you’re always reaching for the potato chips or pretzels, you should asses the stress in your life and think about how you can reduce it.
  • Habit — Eating a higher-sodium diet can train your taste buds and brain to expect and crave it regularly. Cutting back on salt can eventually alter these patterns and reduce cravings.
  • Medical conditions — If your salt cravings are near-constant, ask your doctor whether you should be screened for adrenal insufficiency or a kidney disorder.