Salt is a nutrient that is required for life. Every day, our bodies need a small amount of sodium to maintain proper fluid balance and keep our nerves and muscles functioning properly. We’ve always had a hard time getting enough salt throughout human history, and cravings have been a helpful way of ensuring we get enough.
That said, despite the fact that the daily recommended sodium intake is 2,300 mg, most of us consume more than that, owing to processed foods. When even something as simple as a slice of bread or a bowl of breakfast cereal contains up to 200 mg of sodium, it quickly adds up.
Even though it is perfectly normal to crave salty foods, there are times when our cravings may be a sign of something more serious. If you’re craving salty foods or reaching for the salt shaker more frequently than usual, there are a few factors that could be to blame.
One of salt’s main functions is to keep the body’s fluid balance in check. When we have too much water in our bodies, our kidneys will excrete it through urine, whereas when we don’t have enough water in our bodies, such as when we are dehydrated, our kidneys will hold onto the water in our bodies by reducing the amount excreted.
Sodium, a solute, aids our bodies in retaining more water. When we are dehydrated, our bodies try to hold on to as much water as possible, which necessitates the use of more salt. Dizziness, headaches, muscle cramping, extreme thirst, and cold, clammy skin are all signs of dehydration.
Salt is an electrolyte that aids in maintaining the proper fluid balance in our bodies. If this balance is upset, resulting in a lower-than-normal sodium concentration in our bodies, we will begin to crave salt.
Headache, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, confusion, and/or irritability are all symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance. It can even cause seizures in extreme cases.
You’ve been working up a sweat
Salt cravings triggered by dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance are linked to this. If you’ve been working out extra hard and sweating profusely, you’ve been losing electrolytes—including sodium—along with all of that perspiration.
We lose about 500 mg of sodium per pound of sweat on average, though this varies greatly from person to person. This won’t make much of a difference for someone who spends half an hour at the gym or goes for a slow walk around the neighborhood.
It can, however, make a difference if you’re doing long, intense workouts that cause you to sweat profusely, especially if you’re a salty sweater. (If your workout clothes are frequently stained with white salt, it’s a sign you’re sweating out more salt than the average person.)
Weigh yourself before and after your workout to get an idea of how much sweat you’re losing.
Our bodies do not produce enough hormones, which causes Addison’s disease. It can develop as a result of an autoimmune disorder, tuberculosis, certain fungal or bacterial infections, pituitary gland problems, or if you stopped taking long-term steroid medications recently.
One of these hormones’ functions is to keep our blood pressure in check. If this happens, our blood pressure may drop, prompting a desire for salt to compensate.
Addison’s disease is a serious condition, so if you’ve been experiencing symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, weight loss, weakness, headaches, nausea, and/or headaches in addition to a salt craving, you should see a doctor.
We tend to crave comfort foods when we are stressed. Many of us associate salty foods with this feeling, whether it’s chips, fries, or a large slice of hot, greasy pizza. There’s also some evidence that higher sodium levels cause our bodies to release less cortisol, so that could be your body’s way of coping.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Food cravings can be a symptom of PMS, in addition to mood swings, bloating, constipation, and other amusing aspects of the condition. That means salty foods for many of us.
All of that vomiting can lead to dehydration if you’ve been having a lot of morning (or all-day) sickness during your pregnancy. Your body may begin to crave salt as a compensatory mechanism to restore balance. Then there’s the food compulsions, which for many of us means salty foods.