If you regularly crave salty foods, it could mean your sodium levels are too low, according to a 2008 review article in “Physiology and Behavior.” Sodium is an essential mineral needed to maintain blood pressure and essential amounts of water. If you consume too much sodium, however, you are increasing your risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Understanding why you crave salty foods so that you can modify your behavior can keep you out of harm’s way.
Excessive Sweating and Sodium Depletion
Low levels of sodium in your body can increase your appetite for salty foods, according to a 2007 article in the journal "Brain Research." Sodium depletion is a physiological state that can occur when you sweat excessively, like during vigorous exercise, and you drink excessive fluids without replacing the sodium you lose from sweating. Sport drinks typically contain sodium to help replenish stores lost during exercise in addition to quenching thirst.
If you crave salty foods a couple of times a month, your menstrual cycle might be the cause. Craving salty foods can occur during menstrual bleeding and ovulation. A research study in a 1994 issue of “Physiology and Behavior” found that women craved salty foods more when they were ovulating and during menstrual bleeding. Researchers concluded hormones involved in menstruation might alter taste preferences.
Addison’s Disease or Gitelman Syndrome
According to the Mayo Clinic, Addison’s disease will cause you to crave salt if left untreated. The adrenal glands secrete hormones that regulate fluid balance and urinary sodium excretion. If you have Addison’s disease, your adrenal glands fail to produce enough of the hormones that tell your kidneys how much sodium to retain. Gitelman syndrome, a genetic kidney disorder, may cause cravings for salt, according to the National Institutes of Health's Genetics Reference Guide. The kidneys' ability to regulate how much salt to retain is impaired and low sodium levels can trigger salt craving.
In a 2009 study in the journal “Medical Hypotheses,” researchers assessed patients who were addicted to opiates and undergoing withdrawal to see if they experienced increased cravings for salty foods. During opiate withdrawal, patients experienced increased cravings for salt and salty foods. Researchers concluded that neurological mechanisms in the brain could cause addiction to certain foods like those high in salt and salt might stimulate the pleasure and reward center in the brain that opiates also stimulate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults consume between 1,500 and 2,400 mg of sodium daily, or between 1/2 to 1 tsp. of table salt. If you regularly consume more than this level due to salty food cravings, you are increasing your risk for developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Decrease your consumption of processed foods and the amount of table salt you add to food. Seek advice from a registered dietitian for ways to make your diet healthier. See a medical doctor to explore the possibility of an underlying condition if you feel you cannot control your cravings.
- “Physiology and Behavior”; Salt Craving: The Psychobiology of Pathogenic Sodium Intake; Michael Morris, et al.; August 2008
- “Physiology and Behavior”; Menstrual Cycle and Sex Differences Influence Salt Preference; Cheryl Frye, et al.; January 1994
- Mayo Clinic: Addison's Disease
- “Medical Hypotheses”; The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis May Explain Overeating and the Obesity Epidemic; J.A. Cocores, et al.; December 2009
- "Brain Research"; The Neural Substrates of Enhanced Salt Appetite After Repeated Sodium Depletions; Elisa Na, et al.; September 2007
- “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly”; Application of Lower Sodium Intake Recommendations to Adults -- United States, 1999–2006; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; March 2009