Salt, also known as sodium chlorine, often gets a bad rap for being unhealthy, but did you know that our bodies actually need salt?
Not only does salt make food taste better, but it helps to support the balance of fluids in the body, reducing the risk of both dehydration and overhydration, along with supporting healthy digestion, good sleep, and so much more.
However, we should only intake up to 6mg of salt per day or we may see side effects, such as the increased risk of high blood pressure, water retention, and heart disease.
What does it mean when you’re craving salt?
Craving salt means a number of things, ranging from dehydration and low levels of electrolytes lost in sweat to stress and poor-quality sleep.
We’ll soon share nine reasons you may be craving salt, giving you signs of things to watch out for so you can cut out those salt cravings.
Is craving salt a sign of iron deficiency?
Craving salt is not a sign of iron deficiency, and most often is not a sign of deficiency at all.
Although rare, it occasionally symbolises a deficiency in chloride, an important mineral most often known referred to as electrolytes.
However, since chloride is found in common table salt and is present in most foods, this is an uncommon cause of salt cravings.
How much salt should you have per day?
The NHS recommends that we only have about 6mg of salt in our diet per day,1 which amounts to about one teaspoon worth of salt.
This includes all the salt that’s hidden in unrefined foods, processed foods and sauces, and the seasoning you add to dishes during and after cooking.
When you look at it like that, it’s easy to see how people often intake more salt than they should.
What should I eat if I crave salt?
Craving salt but looking for a healthier alternative? Read on to find out what you can swap salt for.
Healthier alternatives to high-salt foods
- Drink more water: As salt cravings can often be caused by dehydration, drinking water may help your body to return to its ideal sodium-to-water ratio.2 As an added bonus, this may reduce feelings of hunger, removing your snack cravings!
- High-potassium foods: By getting enough potassium-rich foods in your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, you can help to maintain your body’s fluid balance using potassium, rather than relying on sodium.3
- Avoid processed foods and sauces: It’s said that 78–80% of the salt you eat comes from processed foods or restaurant meals,4 so swapping ready-made foods and sauces for homemade alternatives could help reduce your salt intake.
- Chewing gum: Studies have found that chewing gum may help to reduce cravings for sweet and salty foods5, giving you time to find a better alternative and minty fresh breath.
Are you eating too much salt?
- Salt, or sodium chloride, is important for the body’s functions, including body fluid balance, healthy digestion, and better sleep.
- Craving salt is rarely the effect of a deficiency as sodium chloride is found in table salt and most foods.
- 6g of salt is the recommended daily allowance, approximately one teaspoon.
- Healthier alternatives to salty foods include removing cravings with more water, swapping sodium for high-potassium foods, switching to homemade versions of meals and sauces, and chewing gum, proven to help reduce cravings for salty snacks.
9 reasons why you’re craving salt
Craving salt but not sure why? Don't worry, you aren't alone.
Craving salt during pregnancy
If you’re craving salt during pregnancy, don’t worry! It’s completely normal.
It’s believed that similar to PMS, when women often also crave salty foods, hormonal changes in the body are the source.
Increased stress often sends people in search of their favourite comfort foods in order to feel happier—for most people, this includes foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt.
In addition, studies have found that stress also increases ghrelin in the body, a hormone linked to hunger, making your favourite snacks even harder to resist.6
You’re not getting enough sleep
In the same way that stress increases your desire for snacks that make you happy, so does a lack of sleep.
You try to find bursts of energy and happiness through comfort foods, most often foods high in salt or sugar.
You’re sweating a lot
As sweat contains salt, sweating naturally reduces the sodium in your body.
Heavy exercise or hot weather makes the body sweat more, meaning that you lose this salt via sweat even more quickly, often resulting in salt cravings as your body tries to rebalance sodium levels.7
You might be dehydrated
Fluids are incredibly important for your body to function as it should.
As such, when your body begins to become dehydrated, you may start craving salt as a signal that you need to eat or drink more.
However, as dehydration is so damaging to our body, you may also notice other symptoms, such as:
- Intense thirst
- Infrequent urination
It could be premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
In the same way that pregnant women often crave salty foods, PMS causes hormonal fluctuations that are believed to cause cravings for certain foods, often high in salt or fat.
A symptom of Addison’s disease
Addison’s disease, also known as adrenal insufficiency, means a person’s adrenal glands do not make enough hormones.
These hormones support a person in responding well to stress, such as regulating blood pressure, so having Addison’s disease can lead to low blood pressure and sudden salt cravings.
Besides craving salt, people with Addison’s disease may also experience:
- Ongoing fatigue.
- Dizziness or even fainting, caused by low blood pressure.
- Low appetite or weight loss
- Low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia.
- Stomach pain.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Irritability or feelings of depression.
- Irregular menstrual periods.
A symptom of Bartter syndrome
People with Bartter syndrome cannot reabsorb sodium in their kidneys, meaning that they lose too much sodium through urination, along with potassium and calcium, too.
Due to this, people with Bartter syndrome may often crave salt along with a variety of other symptoms, including:
- Children may experience slow weight gain.
- Frequent urination.
- Kidney stones.
- Low blood pressure.
- Muscle cramps or weakness.
You might just be bored
Not everything comes back to bodily functions, hormones, or serious conditions.
Sometimes, you might just want to eat out of boredom.
In these scenarios, drink a glass of water or chew gum to reduce those cravings and find something to entertain yourself.
- Pregnancy: Changes in hormones may cause salt cravings.
- Stress: High stress may have you reaching for high-salt comfort foods.
- Lack of sleep: Sleepy people crave more snacks, including salty foods.
- You’re losing sodium through sweat: Your body is rebalancing its water-sodium ratio.
- You’re dehydrated: Your body is sending signals for snacks in search of fluids.
- PMS: Hormonal fluctuations may have you craving your favourite foods.
- Addison’s disease: A lack of hormones leads to difficulty handling stress and blood pressure.
- Bartter syndrome: An inability to absorb sodium leads to salt cravings.
- Boredom: Nothing’s wrong, you’re just looking for entertainment from salty snacks!
9 benefits of salt in your diet
There are, however, some benefits of having salt in your diet.
It may reduce cholesterol
In a balanced diet, salt is a good thing. In fact, a study has shown that a low-salt diet may actually increase blood cholesterol by 2.5-4.6%.8,9
May reduce the risk of hyponatremia
A low intake of salt in your diet can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, in which your body holds on to extra water due to low levels of sodium, excess heat, or overhydration, resulting in fatigue, nausea, headaches, and dizziness.10
Helps to reduce the risk of dehydration
As sodium is so important for a balance of fluids in the body, not getting enough may cause dehydration, normally as a result of intense exercise or hot weather.11
Supports healthy blood pressure
A healthy balance of fluid in the body is also related to maintaining blood pressure levels, meaning that changes in sodium—too little or too much—could lead to changes in blood pressure.12
Aids with digestion
Chloride helps the body to create stomach acid, meaning that a healthy intake of salt (sodium chloride) promotes the absorption of nutrients during the digestion process.13
Helps to control blood sugar levels
It has been shown that a low-salt diet increases the body’s resistance to insulin, which plays a vital role in controlling blood sugar levels.
In fact, even a moderate limit of sodium has shown this same increase in insulin resistance, showing the importance of salt in blood sugar control.14
May be linked to a higher metabolism
Studies have seen a correlation between low-salt diets and an increase of cortisol in the blood, often linked to weight gain or poor metabolism.15
Supports the body’s heat regulation
Increasing your sodium intake as part of a balanced diet may also help with the act of thermogenesis, whereby the body creates its own heat.16
If you find yourself reaching for salty snacks in colder months, there’s your excuse!
Promote high-quality sleep
As sodium may help with fighting stress-induced hormones and increasing metabolism, it is also believed that salt can improve the quality of your sleep.
Many people state that a low-salt diet has led to low-quality or broken sleep.
Getting your daily recommended salt intake may help to support:
- A decrease in bad cholesterol.
- Reduces the risk of both dehydration and overhydration.
- Lowers blood pressure by balancing fluids in the body.
- Healthy digestion via the production of stomach acid.
- Control of blood sugar levels.
- An increase in your metabolism.
- Your body’s heat regulation—perfect for colder months!
- Better sleep through hormone control and increased metabolism.
Side effects of too much salt
Read on to find out about some of the side effects that may come from eating too much salt.
Swelling of the extremities
Too much salt in your diet may mean that your kidneys will keep more water in your body, which may result in swelling of your hands, ankles, feet, and lower limbs.
Loss of important minerals
High-salt foods often make you thirsty, so you drink more water.
This increased fluid intake may mean you need to urinate more frequently, losing important minerals like calcium via your urine.
Increased blood pressure
This is often why people are so afraid of salt, and excess salt in your diet may cause problems.
Since an excess of salt makes your body retain more water, your kidney has to work harder to flush this out of your body and this can lead to higher blood pressure, linked to many cardiovascular issues later in life.
Symptoms, causes & dangers of dehydration
What is dehydration and what could be causing it? Find out here.
Symptoms, causes & dangers of dehydration
Craving salt: The summary
We’re hoping we’ve satisfied your craving for knowledge of the importance of salt, why you might be craving it, how it benefits your body and the side effects of having too much in your body.
Last updated: 28 September 2021