Photo: AlenKadr (Shutterstock)
Salt is an essential nutrient. Our body requires a small amount of sodium every day in order to maintain the proper fluid balance, as well as keep our nerves and muscles functioning properly. Over the course of human history, we’ve usually had a hard time getting enough salt, for which cravings have been helpful, as a way of ensuring we get enough.
However, although the recommended daily intake is 2,300 mg of sodium per day, most of us are getting more than that, primarily due to processed foods. When something as innocent as a slice of bread or bowl of breakfast cereal can contain up to 200 mg of sodium, this adds up fast.
Although enjoying salty foods is certainly normal, there are times when our cravings may be a sign that something else is going on. If you find yourself craving salty foods or reaching for the salt shaker more often than usual, here are a few things that may be driving your cravings.
One of the main functions of salt is to maintain a proper fluid balance. When we have too much water in our body, our kidneys will get rid of it through urine, while if we don’t have enough water in our bodies, such as when we are dehydrated, then our kidneys will hang on to the water in our by bodies by decreasing the amount that is excreted.
G/O Media may get a commission
Sodium, which is a solute, helps our body hang on to more water. If we are dehydrated, our body wants to hang on to as much water as it can, for which it needs more salt. Other signs of dehydration include dizziness, headaches, muscle cramping, feeling very thirsty, and cold, clammy skin.
Salt is an electrolyte, with the function of helping maintain the right amount of fluid in our body. If this balance gets disrupted, resulting in a lower-than-usual concentration of sodium in our bodies, It will cause us to start craving salt.
Signs of an electrolyte imbalance include headache, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, confusion, and/or irritability. In extreme cases, it can even cause seizures.
You’ve been sweating a lot
This is linked to salt cravings triggered by dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance. If you have been working out extra hard, which is causing you to sweat heavily, you’ve been losing electrolytes—which includes sodium—along with all of that perspiration.
On average, we lose about 500 mg of sodium for every pound of sweat, although that number ranges widely from person to person. For someone spending half an hour at the gym or going for a slow walk around the neighborhood, this won’t make too much of a difference. If you are doing long, intense workouts that are causing you to sweat profusely, however, it can make a difference, especially if you are a particularly salty sweater. (If you often have white salt stains on your workout clothes, that’s a hint you may be sweating out more salt than the average person.)
To get a sense of how much sweat you are losing, weigh yourself before and after your workout.
Addison’s disease is caused by our body not making enough hormones. It can develop as a result of an autoimmune disorder, tuberculosis, certain fungal or bacterial infections, problems with the pituitary gland, or if you recently stopped taking long-term steroid medications.
One role of these hormones is to regulate our blood pressure. If this happens, our blood pressure can drop, which prompts us to crave salt as a way of correcting it. Addison’s disease can be quite serious, so if in addition to craving salt, you’ve also been experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, weight loss, weakness, headaches, nausea and/or headaches, you’ll want to see a doctor.
When we are stressed, we tend to crave comfort foods. For many of us, that means salty foods, whether it’s chips, fries, or a big slice of hot, greasy pizza. There’s also some evidence that suggests our bodies release less cortisol when our sodium levels are higher, so that may also be your body’s way of trying to cope.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
In addition to the mood swings, bloating, constipation, and other fun parts about PMS, food cravings can also be a symptom. For many of us, that means salty foods.
If you’ve been experiencing a lot of morning (or all-day) sickness during the course of your pregnancy, all of that vomiting can lead to dehydration. As a compensatory mechanism, your body may start craving salt to correct that balance. Then there are the food cravings, which for many of us means salty foods.