You need salt to live. But these days, the average person in Western society consumes too much salt.
- The American Heart Association reports that salt intake should be around 1,500 – 2,300 mg per day. This looks like about one small spoonful of salt.
- However, average consumption of salt per day in Western societies tends to be around 3,200 mg each day.
Here’s the health question:
Let’s assume you are getting too much salt, then why are you still craving salt?
I used to struggle with salt cravings myself. I’d find myself staring longingly at a bag of chips I knew had no nutritional value, or so I thought.
I didn’t know at the time the various health reasons behind my salt craving, but fortunately now I do.
Nowadays I’m able to recognize a salt craving and the reason behind it, and make a better health decision.
Sometimes I do need salt, and at those times I honor my body’s need for salt. That’s because sodium is necessary for our muscles, bodily fluid ratios, and for nerve function!
However, I’m also able to identify when my salt cravings are misguided.
Let’s dive into some reasons you crave salt and what you can do about it!
Salt Craving Reason #1: Dehydration From Not Drinking Enough Water
By far the most common reason for salt cravings is dehydration.
On average, men and women need a good amount of water each day:
- 91 ounces of water per day for women
- 125 ounces of water per day for men
The reason you crave salt when you are dehydrated is simple.
Your body has a bunch of different fluids such as blood, urine and stomach acid.
If your body’s fluids are running low, then you’ll need more water for your body to convert into these fluids.
As a signal for you to drink or eat more food to replenish your body’s fluids, your body will begin to crave salt.
(Sometimes your cravings for salt are actually water cravings that get misinterpreted by your body. And other times your body is used to hydrating through beverages that contain both water and salt, so this can also explain why you crave salty foods when dehydrated.)
This is a sign you may need to eat or drink more to get more water!
Please note that dehydration may not always appear as a salt craving. Here are some other signs you may be dehydrated and need to drink some water:
- Cold skin
- Dry mouth
- Very little urine
How Do You Know When Your Body Needs More Salt?
While it’s true that some people do need more salt in their diet, the majority of people actually have too much sodium in their diet. Therefore, most people may do well with less salt and more hydration.
If you genuinely need more salt in your diet, you might crave foods that are in high in salt such as:
- Salted chips
You may even crave salty foods that have a lot of salt but that you might not think of as being salty. For example, these foods contain salt but might not taste salty:
- Croissants (420 mg of sodium for a medium-sized croissant)
- Waffles (480 mg of sodium for 2 waffles)
- Corn flakes (530 mg of sodium for 2 cups)
At the Eating Center where I work, we frequently give clients salt pills as well when their sodium and blood pressure levels are too low.
For now though, just read through the other causes of salt cravings and see if you can take some practical steps using those ideas.
If you still have salt cravings after trying all the steps, then you may want to consult your doctor for a blood test to see if you genuinely have low sodium and blood pressure levels in your blood.
But remember, you may just need to drink some more water and do a few of the other steps listed down below too!
Salt Craving Reason #2: Dehydration From Too Much Sweating
Dehydration from excessive sweating was the main reason I would get salt cravings.
The reason sweat is linked to salt cravings is simple:
- Sweat contains salt
- When you sweat, you therefore lose salt
(Fun fact: The lack of water and sodium in blood is why blood pressure levels fall alongside an increase in salt cravings.)
For me, I used to work at a hot yoga studio and also took hot yoga classes. Plus, I would also stand at the front desk of the yoga studio for long periods of time.
I thought I was drinking plenty of water, but I was wrong.
Between teaching my hot yoga class, taking hot yoga, and standing, I was actually sweating out much more sodium than I thought and was getting dehydrated.
I thought I was drinking plenty of water, but then I started researching hydration and found out I would need way more water than I was currently drinking!
Fortunately, I was able to get some various electrolytes and sodium into my water and feel better.
We’ll talk about electrolytes later, but overall the lesson is simple: excessive sweating leads to dehydration.
And dehydration, as we have covered above, is a primary cause of cravings for salty foods.
The main thing to realize is that sometimes people simply don’t drink enough during the day.
But other times, people do drink enough water but then need extra water because of their sweat released by various types of movement.
Here are some surprising activities that may make you sweat without you even realizing it:
- Shopping: walking around for long periods of time, carrying loads, and dealing with the stress of finding items can cause sweating.
- Too hot at night: while some people like warmer temperatures at night, if you don’t get a big glass of water in the morning you could easily be chronically dehydrated if you like even a slightly hotter room to sleep in.
- Exercise classes: oftentimes people do exercise classes in a routine way. I am guilty of this myself. However, when exercise becomes routine then drinking enough water can be forgotten. Try not to forget!
Salt Craving Reason #3: Stress
Stress and salt cravings go hand in hand.
When you are stressed, it’s normal to crave food in order to feel better. We call these comfort foods.
And generally speaking, foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt are the foods that provide the most comfort.
(From an evolutionary perspective, foods that contained sugar, fat and salt were the most “valuable” as those resources were scarce. That’s one reason why comfort foods nowadays are what we turn to nowadays when we want to feel better.)
From a biological stress leads to cravings for several reasons:
- Stress can cause people to sweat more
- Stress can cause tension in muscles, and tension is a form of exertion
- Stress can disrupt hormones and create imbalances
Salt Craving Reason #4: Not Enough Sleep
Not getting enough sleep leads to more stress. (And remember, stress can lead to eating salty foods for comfort.)
When you are lacking sleep, the minor frustrations of life become more stressful.
Lack of sleep was also a huge problem for me. My problem was going to bed and then not being able to fall asleep.
This really irritated me because I would be tired from a long, hot, sweaty day. But even though I was exhausted I still wouldn’t be able to fall asleep and then the next day I would wake up tired!
While sleep isn’t the focus of this article, here are a few tips that worked well for me:
- Tracking: Tracking my sleep with an app made me more accountable
- Darkness: No lights, and use eye coverings
- No Coffee After 3 pm: I discovered that while the noticeable effects of coffee would wear off before bedtime, the residual effects of caffeine would impact my sleep negatively
Salt Craving Reason #5: Electrolytes Out Of Balance
There are a few things that can cause your electrolytes to be out of balance:
- Hot temperatures
- Lack of variety in diet
In the case of vomiting, diarrhea and too much heat, it’s pretty straightforward.
Your body is losing liquids. Liquid loss, as we covered earlier, can lead to salt cravings among other symptoms.
(Please note that pregnant women often will vomit during the course of their pregnancy. This can result in severe dehydration. If you are pregnant, vomiting, and craving salt then it’s highly likely you need more water and more electrolytes. This can be very serious so please take care!)
However, a lack of variety in your diet can also cause salt cravings.
See, there are a variety of electrolytes that your body needs, such as:
If you aren’t eating a variety of foods then you’ll probably miss some of these electrolytes.
For example, if you only eat carbs then you might miss out on magnesium, which is found in dark leafy green vegetables.
Likewise, if you only eat vegetables then you may likely miss out on the potassium found in fruits like bananas.
Is Craving Salt A Sign Of Iron Deficiency?
Generally speaking, craving salt is not a sign of iron deficiency.
Back before my salt cravings, I actually had a time period where I developed a blood condition called anemia due to low amounts of iron in my blood.
Despite being diagnosed with anemia, however, I do not remember craving salt at that period in my life. Cravings for salty foods for me were due to dehydration.
With that being said, here are some foods that contain high amounts of iron:
- Red meat
- Lentils and beans
- Fortified cereals
Salt Craving Reason #6: Addison’s Disease
Oftentimes you may read online that your salt food cravings are due to Addison’s Disease.
Addison’s Disease is where your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones and you suffer from an adrenal insufficiency.
Here are some symptoms of Addison’s Disease:
- Physical weakness and inability to lift items you used to
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Low appetite for no reason
- Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
- Pain in your stomach
- Low blood sodium levels
- Low blood pressure
Low blood sodium levels and adrenal insufficiency are dangerous. Your adrenal glands are important!
However, please note that the odds of you actually having Addison’s Disease are relatively low.
The National Organization for Rare Diseases estimates that only 1 out of 100,000 people have Addison’s Disease.
Best health advice here is to consult your doctor if your symptoms match the ones listed above and you are craving salt.
With that being said, these are the 6 primary reasons you crave sodium.
Now let’s switch focus and address how to stop your salt cravings!
How Do You Get Rid Of Salt Cravings?
Let’s review the 6 primary causes of salt cravings real quickly:
- Dehydration due to not enough water
- Dehydration due to excessive exercise
- Not enough sleep
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Addison’s Disease
With these primary causes in mind, we can understand our top way to stop salt cravings is getting enough water.
Easier said than done, but you can focus on drinking water in the following ways:
- Drink water with meals
- Carry a reusable water bottle with you
- Drink water first thing in the morning
- Remember that coffee dehydrates you, so drink water with each cup of coffee
As for stress and sleep, well, for starters get more sleep. See the tips above for some ideas on how to get more sleep.
In general too, if you need help with eating and cravings then please contact an eating counselor. Most offer an initial session you can use to chat with and see if their counsel makes sense for you.
Let’s talk about electrolyte imbalance now …
What Should I Eat If I Crave Salt?
If you have tried drinking a lot more water and also genuinely feel calm (i.e., not stressed) throughout your day, then it’s possible that your stress cravings are due to an electrolyte imbalance.
The general solution to cure an electrolyte imbalance is to eat a variety of food:
- Whole grains and carbohydrates
- Good sources of fat
- Fruits and vegetables
Generally speaking you’ll need to eat a “hearty meal” at least 3x per day. Oftentimes people may eat one or two snacks throughout the day too.
And just to clarify, by “hearty meal” I am talking about a meal that contains at least:
- A whole grain or carbohydrate
- A protein
- A good fat
If you can add in some fruits and vegetables as well in your meals then you’ll be well on your way to curing this salt craving of yours!
Last but not least, check your health with your doctor anyways. It’s unlikely that you have an adrenal insufficiency but still never hurts to visit to check!