Why you crave salty foods…and how to turn it off

salty foods

Food cravings are common and one of the hardest to break is craving for salty foods. Chips, pretzels, popcorn, pickles, and crackers are a sampling of foods satisfying a liking for salt, also referred to as sodium since salt is composed of sodium and chloride. It’s the sodium side of salt that can cause health issues, especially with hypertension.

However, the mineral sodium is a necessary nutrient your body requires helping maintain your fluid and electrolyte balance and your blood volume. The problem with sodium is too many Americans eat more sodium in the form of salt than what they need. The Recommended Dietary Allowance and American Heart Association recommend a maximum of no more than 2300 mg a day for sodium; in actuality, the average American consumes around 3400 mg a day.

Here’s why eating too much salt bad for your health:

  • Excess sodium can stiffen and narrow blood vessels. This puts a strain on the heart to pump blood throughout the body with more force than usual which increases blood pressure.
  • Eating foods high in sodium for your evening meal can lead to sleep disturbances partly due to the increase in blood pressure and fluid retention. You’ll likely wake up tired and groggy the next day.
  • Excess sodium strains the kidneys increasing the risk of chronic kidney disease. When you eat too much salt, this upsets your sodium balance reducing kidney function in removing less water that again, pushes up blood pressure.
  • Even your brain is affected by too much salt in your diet. The heart will have more difficulty effectively pumping blood to the brain which can impair thinking and memory.

Common causes for craving salt

  • Premenstrual syndrome: As hormones fluctuate with PMS, so do cravings for something salty.
  • Addison’s disease: Also known as adrenal insufficiency, this condition occurs when the body isn’t making enough of certain hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol helps balance salt and fluids but when you’re not producing enough of it, you may have stronger cravings for salt.
  • Sleep deprivation: Many hormones are affected by lack of sleep increasing salt cravings. These hormones include cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, and serotonin.
  • Strenuous exercise: Working up a sweat during vigorous exercise reduces sodium levels and will up your liking for salt.
  • Boredom: Many of us eat due to boredom and typically that means munching away on salty convenience foods like chips or cheese with crackers.
  • Stress: When your body is under stress, hormone levels are affected. Cortisol is once again, the hormone released by your body when stressed out that also is linked to increased food cravings.

Beat back salt cravings with these strategies:

Food cravings will never entirely go away. But, to reduce salty hankerings, become salt savvy with deliberate choices squelching your preference for salty foods. Here’s how:

  • Make 90% of your food choices, whole foods. By eating more fruits, veggies, unsalted nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans, that leaves less room for salty processed foods.
  • Replace salt with spices. Flavor foods with more herbs and spices and less salt. Salt stimulates receptors in your brain but when you dial it down with more spices, suddenly salty cravings go away.
  • Drink more water. Sometimes cravings for salty foods are easily mixed up for thirst. Before reaching for that bag of chips, instead, drink a tall glass of seltzer water.
  • Read food labels. The only way you will know the sodium content of food is to look at the Nutrition Facts Label. First, look at the serving of the food you’re about to eat and then look at the “sodium” line for the amount of sodium per serving size. Choose more foods with less than 200 mg of sodium per serving size.
  • Keep salty foods you crave out of the house. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Chew gum. When salt cravings hit, it’s time to chew sugarless gum, good for reducing cravings for salty snacks.
  • Exercise regularly and get sufficient sleep. Both habits help reduce levels of the hormone ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone.
  • Distract yourself. Most food cravings will pass within about 15-20 minutes. During this time take a walk or call a friend, anything keeping your mind occupied off of salty foods.
Why you crave salty foods…and how to turn it off
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi