Why You Crave Salty Snacks & What You Can Do About It
Can’t eat just one? Are those potato chip cravings just one of many salty desires your body asks for every day? Join the club! We are hard-wired to crave salt (and fat and sugar), so welcome to the human race.
Until pretty 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. But that all took time and energy.
To make sure that we ate enough of it, our bodies and brains were designed to really enjoy the taste, and therefore the craving was built into us, to pursue the pleasure that salt gives us. When you eat salt, the brain lights up with little hits of pleasure-chemicals, ensuring that we will keep eating it.
And you need salt, all the time, for countless processes in your personal biochemistry set, known as your body.
But, as with many things, when we eat too much sodium, our bodies become unbalanced. Like a recipe that you accidentally toss too much salt into? Our blood and tissues have to try to balance an overly salty diet. But we can’t just toss out the soup and start over.
So now salt is everywhere, and it’s cheap. And we're eating too much of it.
Most government health organizations tell us we should be eating 2,300 mg of sodium or less a day — that’s less than 1 teaspoon — or 1500 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. And most of that comes from processed, pre-packaged food, not what we add at the table.
So that’s the warning: here’s the reality.
We crave salt, it’s easy (maybe too easy) to get, we’re eating too much, and it’s everywhere.
But why do we crave it so much, even if it’s bad for us in high doses? And how can we address those cravings in a healthy way that supports our goals and us?
There are four ways you can look at your salt cravings, and perhaps learn something that will inspire a change in your diet to help you stay healthy and balanced:
1. It’s a habit.
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 that you added a pinch or dash of salt to most meals. Now you’re used to salty foods and low-salt foods taste boring or bland.
Solution: Become aware of your salt habits. Are you salting food before you even taste it? How much salt to you add when cooking?
- 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 find you need more flavor.
2. You're missing minerals.
Our bodies need calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc and other trace minerals to stay healthy and run the chemistry of neurochemical reactions and building blood and hormones. Many minerals taste salty or minerally, so when you get the message to eat more salt, your body is really asking for more minerals! You will keep craving salt until your mineral needs are met.
Solution: Boost your mineral intake with a high-quality multi-vitamin, eat more mineral-dense sea vegetables like nori, kelp, and dulse, and eat more super seeds like hemp and chia.
3. You're dehydrated.
Sodium works for us by keeping water in our bodies for 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 body, and keep retaining the water you need. Exercise, alcohol consumption, and even a high salt diet can all lead to dehydration.
Solution: Make sure to drink eight or more glasses of water every day, and extra when you exercise. 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. You have sluggish adrenal glands.
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. Adrenaline over-production can be a result of a stressed-out lifestyle, and leads to adrenal fatigue.
Solution: If you’re experiencing salt cravings along with low energy and bags under your eyes, get your adrenal and cortisol levels checked.
Food cravings of any kind signal a deficiency of some kind, either physical (like an underactive adrenal system,) emotional (like family habits), or nutritional (like low mineral levels). Start looking and feeling into your salt cravings and begin to make small changes in your diet or have your hormone levels checked.