Tossing down a packet of salt and vinegar chips can be surprisingly satisfying when you have the urge. Sometimes the desire to scoff a box of popcorn or inhale a bag of seasoned fries can become problematic. Salt cravings are a common challenge and they can be difficult to shake. This week I explore the reasons behind our salt hankerings and why they’re sodium hard to overcome.
Sodium chloride is another term for salt. It plays a vital role in our body by maintaining our cells; transporting water and transmitting messages from the brain. When we have too much salt our bodies suffer from water retention; high blood pressure and we risk heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.
Adults should aim to consume no more than a teaspoon or four grams of salt per day in order to prevent chronic disease. That’s not very much particularly when three quarters of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods. A fresh pasta sauce from the supermarket contains almost a third of our daily salt intake. Add parmesan and this will take you off the sodium chloride charts.
A strong desire for salt can occur when we’re highly stressed. Studies show that when we’ve had a tough day at work we reach for a bag of chips. Salt acts as a comfort and can develop into a habit if you’re not careful. This can also be the case when we’re bored or anxious about something. Try to keep those bags of chips out of reach and distract yourself by going for a walk or calling a friend.
Exercise is another reason we may reach for those pretzels. Our sweat contains salt so when we perspire during physical activity, we may have a taste for sodium as we need to top up our levels. This usually only occurs after strenuous or endurance activities. However, it can also happen if you’re exercising in a hot environment. Try to reach for an electrolyte drink or water rather than salty snacks to replenish your sodium.
Sleep deprivation may alter the brain so that it craves unhealthy food. Salty treats are usually top of the list so make sure you’re getting enough shut eye. Hormonal fluctuations can also increase your desire for sodium chloride. Premenstrual syndrome may result in salt cravings. Try to resist as salty foods only cause further water retention and bloating which already occurs at this time.
Preference for salty foods is developed through exposure. If you’ve been eating loads of salt packed meals, then your body will have adapted to a higher salt intake. It’s possible to lower your taste for salt gradually over time. Try leaving your salt shaker off the table and season your meals with lemon, ginger, garlic or herbs and spices. Use left-over meat or poultry sandwich fillings instead of ham, salami or bacon.
Be aware of what triggers your sodium chloride cravings. If it’s lack of sleep or the daily grind, then try to prioritise your well-being. Always have healthy snacks on hand particularly after exercise and eat more fresh foods to reduce your reliance on packaged and processed ones. It’s time to shake up those salt cravings so you can look and feel better.