Food Freedom Friday Edition 47

Craving Salt?

Cravings can often beat down even the strongest resolve, especially when they seem to strike out of nowhere.

Often, however, it is your body sending you a few not to subtle messages about what it needs and when it comes to cravings, it is important to understand why these happening in the first place. Deal with the underlying cause and your cravings can be mastered, for good.

The cause of specific food cravings is not always straight forward and simple. Salt cravings in particular could be symptoms of emotional stress, physical stress, a nutrient deficiency, or a combination of any or all of these factors.

Craving salt can be a good thing; your body needs sodium

Small amounts of naturally occurring sodium are necessary in your diets and can be found in many plants including sea vegetables, olives, celery and beet greens. This is in contrast to regular table salt which is full of additives, is artificially processed and has garnered a bad reputation for promoting high blood pressure. In the right amount, sodium actually helps maintain blood pressure control, adrenal function, and maintain cellular metabolism. 

When the craving for salt hits, you are most likely tempted to reach for the nearest bag of potato chips rather than a bowl of beet greens or seaweed salad. Uncovering the possible reasons for your sudden chip frenzy will help you both deal with and prevent future travels into the potato chip bag abyss.

1.       Stress.

Stress directly impacts your adrenal glands, which sit above your kidneys. These are the glands that produce your stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Your adrenals also produce a hormone called aldosterone, which helps your body maintain a healthy sodium and potassium balance. 

When you are constantly exposed to high levels of stress, often just from daily living, your adrenal glands can become depleted. Suppressed adrenal function may result in inadequate hormone production. Since aldosterone regulates your sodium and potassium balance, having low levels of aldosterone can cause your body to release too much sodium and retain too much potassium. To compensate for this lack of sodium, your body may send signals in the form of salt cravings. 

Managing stress can go a long way to curb salt cravings. Incorporating simple stress-relieving techniques like yoga, meditation or spending time outside, into your daily routine, you can support the regulation of your adrenal function.

2.       Exercise.

When you sweat, as you do during exercise, you naturally lose electrolytes including sodium, which may explain your craving for salty foods after you work out.

Exercise is also a form of physical stress and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can further deplete or suppress your adrenal function especially if you are already experiencing notable levels of stress in your life. If your exercise routine revolves around higher-intensity exercise, it might be easier on your adrenal glands to alternate your workouts between high and lower intensity exercise.

Yoga specifically has been shown to promote both physical and emotional stress relief, further supporting adrenal functioning.

3.       Dehydration.

Studies have shown that being dehydrated can cause low sodium, which may result in salt cravings. Sodium helps your body retain the water necessary to keep your cells properly hydrated. When you are not drinking enough, your cells can actually lose electrolytes. Other than just not drinking enough, dehydration can be further caused by  intense exercise and high alcohol or caffeine consumption.

Before reaching for that salty snack you are suddenly craving, try drinking a glass or two or water. If your cravings are persistent, it may be wise to track your daily water consumption to make sure you are, in fact, drinking enough.

As a very general guideline, you should drink at least half of your body weight in pounds, in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would need 75 ounces of water each day. Keep in mind that extra water consumption is required to compensate for dehydrating beverages or intense physical activity. 

The obvious way to stay hydrated is to keep a filled-up glass of water with you so you can sip throughout the day. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a great way to boost both your nutrient and water intakes, while at the same time giving your body a natural source of sodium. 

4.       Over-hydration.

It sounds counterintuitive but you can actually flush sodium out of your body by drinking too much water. The same way physical activity causes your body to release sodium through sweat, drinking too much water can dilute the amount of sodium in your blood.

This is another reason why tracking your daily water intake can be help determine whether your salt cravings are caused by too much (or too little) water.

5.       Mineral Deficiencies.

Salt cravings bean indication of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which may or may not include sodium.

Your adrenal glands help regulate your mineral balances, especially between sodium and potassium. When your adrenal glands are suppressed from prolonged stress, your body’s ability to maintain proper mineral balances can become impaired. 

If vitamin and mineral deficiencies could be the cause of your cravings, it becomes important to prioritize your adrenal health to help improve your adrenal function and mineral regulation. Hair tissue mineral analyses are a good tool to determine mineral deficiencies.

As with many of the underlying causes of salt cravings, getting your stress level under control, resting appropriately, and increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods will further support optimal adrenal function.

6.       Eating Too Much Salt

The more you eat something, the more you tend to crave it. A diet rich in salt could be the trigger for further salt cravings. 

Estimates show that the average American consumes and average anywhere between 3,400 to 5,000 mg of sodium per day. This is significantly higher than the daily recommended allowance of 2,300 mg. the majority of this sodium is coming from processed table salt found in packaged food, boxed foods, and restaurant meals. 

If your salt cravings are due to your high dietary intake of salt, you will need to cut your salt consumption back. Start slowly and work on it gradually to achieve and maintain appropriate sodium levels for you. Choose more whole-foods based options. Include vegetables and fruits naturally rich in sodium, like sea vegetables (seaweed, nori, kombu), celery, capers, green leafy vegetables, carrots, and apples. Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are another good source of natural sodium. They also contain probiotics which will support your healthy digestion. 

7.       You Are Conditioned

Simple conditioning means you associate a taste/food with an activity. For example, associating popcorn with a favorite TV show or movie, or home-baked apple pie with when your grandmother comes to town. 

Simple conditioning can occur at any age, but often stems from childhood.  Having a specific snack while watching a TV show as a child will cause you to associate that food with watching our favorite show today. Pay attention to when your cravings strike. If you notice a specific craving come on as you begin to think of a certain event, activity, or situation, then there is a high probability that your craving is a result of simple conditioning. 

Once identified, work on satisfying your salt cravings first by eating a few olives, snacking on some nuts, eating some oven-roasted chickpeas or enjoying some avocado.  

It is important to remember that your cravings are a symptom individual to you and the cause is rarely simple. Your food cravings are often related to your diet or lifestyle in some way, but many natural healthcare practitioners also believe that salt cravings can have a spiritual component, such as holding on to suppressed emotion and anger.  If my few tips make little difference in your wanting for salty snacks, exploring deeper connections and unresolved underlying emotion may be a helpful next step to dealing with and halting your salt cravings. 

Michal Ofer