Why deficiencies cause salt cravings

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Why Am I Craving Salt?

Ever wonder why do you crave salty foods?

We all know that salty foods are terrible for our health, but sometimes we just can’t help craving them.

And are salty food really that bad? Our bodies do need salt – but to what degree?

Whether it’s the saltiness of potato chips or the taste of a juicy cheeseburger with fries and ketchup that draws you, there are many underlying reasons why people crave salt.

And most of these reasons are related to some deficiency, one way or another!

1 – Dehydration

By far the most common reason for salt cravings is dehydration. 

On average, men and women need a good amount of water each day:

  • 91 ounces of water per day for women
  • 125 ounces of water per day for men

The reason you crave salt when you are dehydrated is simple.

Your body has a bunch of different fluids such as blood, urine and stomach acid. 

If your body’s fluids are running low, then you’ll need more water for your body to convert into these fluids.

As a signal for you to drink or eat more food to replenish your body’s fluids, your body will begin to crave salt. 

(Sometimes your cravings for salt are actually water cravings that get misinterpreted by your body. And other times your body is used to hydrating through beverages that contain both water and salt, so this can also explain why you crave salty foods when dehydrated.)

This is a sign you may need to eat or drink more to get more water!

Please note that dehydration may not always appear as a salt craving. Here are some other signs you may be dehydrated and need to drink some water:

  • Dizziness
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • Cold skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Very little urine

Does It Mean You’re Thirsty If You Crave Salt?

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2 – Too Much Sweating

excessive sweating

The reason sweat is linked to salt cravings is simple:

  • Sweat contains salt
  • When you sweat, you therefore lose salt

(Fun fact: The lack of water and sodium in blood is why blood pressure levels fall alongside an increase in salt cravings.)

Exercise is a great way to stay fit and healthy, of course. But if you exercise too much, your body can release an excess of fluids which will lead to your kidneys releasing minerals.

This mineral imbalance could make the craving for salt grow stronger because sodium (one of the components of salt) regulates fluid balance in the body.

Sometimes people also sit or sleep for too long in hot rooms or cars.

For example, have you ever gone to sleep and then woken up in the middle of the night because the temperature was too hot?

Or you wore a business suit that was too tight and snug but couldn’t take it off during a meeting?

It’s possible innocent situations like these are actually causing you to sweat like a pig!

Heck, the heat alone could cause your blood pressure to boil!

Please note both excessive exercise and sweating have the same core problem causing salt cravings- dehydration!

We’ll talk about electrolytes later, but overall the lesson is simple: excessive sweating leads to dehydration.

And dehydration, as we have covered above, is a primary cause of cravings for salty foods. 

The key difference is that sometimes people have “enough” water but then need “extra” water because of their sweat released by various types of movement.

They are still dehydrated!

Sweat without you even realizing it:

  • Shopping: walking around for long periods of time, carrying loads, and dealing with the stress of finding items can cause sweating.
  • Too hot at night: while some people like warmer temperatures at night, if you don’t get a big glass of water in the morning you could easily be chronically dehydrated if you like even a slightly hotter room to sleep in.
  • Exercise classes: oftentimes people do exercise classes in a routine way. I am guilty of this myself. However, when exercise becomes routine then drinking enough water can be forgotten. Try not to forget! 

Note:  I’m only suggesting reducing these exercises IF you are having salt cravings.  I’m not suggesting reducing them in general!  🙂

Doing this should help cut any urge to crave foods like chips and French fries (i.e., salty treats).

3 – Stress

picture of stressed out woman with sticky notes on her face to show bad work life balance

Stress and salt cravings go hand in hand.

When you are stressed, it’s normal to crave food in order to feel better. We call these comfort foods.

And generally speaking, foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt are the foods that provide the most comfort.

But there’s also many biological reasons stress leads to cravings for salt!

Imagine you get really stressed out one day and your mouth goes dry. This is a pretty common phenomenon.

For example, have you ever had your mouth go dry right before a speech?

It’s like you were dehydrated and lacked salt, but in reality your body was simply under stress.

Stress triggers salt cravings, examples:

  1. You have a deadline approaching and feel intense pressure to send off emails and work real hard. Under this time crunch, you forget about food and drinking water. Dehydration >> salt cravings.
  2. You just had an exhausting stressful argument with your significant relationship. You can’t stop ruminating about what was said. Unintentionally, you forget about your body’s needs for water and food, and the result is the same.
  3. Forget your keys and get startled into a panic. You rush around trying to find the thing you forgot and end up spending tons of time looking. The thought of losing your keys spikes your adrenaline and you get excited. Your excitement blocks your body’s signal for water and food and you end up craving salt. Again, dehydration.
  4. You have an upcoming test and procrastinate endlessly. You expend tons of energy thinking and ruminating about the test or playing video games with unusual passion. I’m sure you know what happens next. 

Do you see how stress can cause you to become dehydrated and depleted, and then start to crave more salt?

If you’re stressed out, then one way of dealing with the stress is through practicing mindfulness techniques.

Some great mindfulness techniques include meditation or deep breathing exercises.

4 – Not Enough Sleep

picture of woman sleeping at her desk to show how to avoid things that make you sleepy before bed

Not getting enough sleep leads to more stress.  (And remember, stress can lead to eating salty foods for comfort.) 

When you are lacking sleep, the minor frustrations of life become more stressful.

Missing out on sleep can increase your salt intake and also make you crave things like chips, sweets, cookies or French fries.

A lack of shut-eye makes it difficult to be in control of what’s going into your mouth. So if salty foods are cropping up more and more, then the culprit could be a sleepless night!

This will only lead to more weight gain! 

If you’re experiencing a lack of sleep, then obviously your body needs the rest and so do your taste buds!

A good night’s sleep can do wonders for keeping cravings in check as well as weight loss efforts. Try going to bed at a decent hour or, even better, taking power naps during the day if needed.

And while we’re on the subject…avoid caffeine before bedtime because it will only make things worse!

Afternoon slump? Go ahead and have that coffee break but try not to take too many sips (or go overboard with dessert either).

That way you won’t end up with an increased appetite leading to craving salty foods like fries and chips.

5 – PMS
pms symptoms

PMS. There’s a very real reason why it feels like everything you eat is salty. It can actually be the hormones in your body causing salt cravings and other PMS symptoms.

Changing hormone levels can cause cravings because of your body’s need for minerals. Some people find eating more potassium-rich foods help lessen their desire for sodium.

Is Craving Salt A Sign Of Iron Deficiency?

Generally speaking, craving salt is not a sign of iron deficiency. 

Back before my salt cravings, I actually had a time period where I developed a blood condition called anemia due to low amounts of iron in my blood.

Despite being diagnosed with anemia, however, I do not remember craving salt at that period in my life. Cravings for salty foods for me were due to dehydration.

Nonetheless, with heavy menstrual bleeding (aka, low iron) it’s possible that this is why you’re craving salt – but most likely it’s still dehydration.

With that being said, here are some foods that contain high amounts of iron:

  • Red meat
  • Lentils and beans
  • Tofu
  • Fortified cereals
  • Figs
  • Cashews
  • Potatoes

6 – Electrolytes Out Of Balance

low on energy and hungry not enough food or calories

There are a few things that can cause your electrolytes to be out of balance:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hot temperatures
  • Lack of variety in diet

In the case of vomiting, diarrhea and too much heat, it’s pretty straightforward.

Your body is losing liquids. Liquid loss, as we covered earlier, can lead to salt cravings among other symptoms. 

(Please note that pregnant women often will vomit during the course of their pregnancy. This can result in severe dehydration. If you are pregnant, vomiting, and craving salt then it’s highly likely you need more water and more electrolytes. This can be very serious so please take care!)

However, a lack of variety in your diet can also cause salt cravings. 

See, there are a variety of electrolytes that your body needs, such as:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium 
  • Magnesium

If you aren’t eating a variety of foods then you’ll probably miss some of these electrolytes. 

For example, if you only eat carbs then you might miss out on magnesium, which is found in dark leafy green vegetables.

Likewise, if you only eat vegetables then you may likely miss out on the potassium found in fruits like bananas.

7 – Addison’s Disease

Addison’s Disease is where your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones and you suffer from an adrenal insufficiency.

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease:

  • Physical weakness and inability to lift items you used to
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Low appetite for no reason
  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  • Pain in your stomach
  • Low blood sodium levels
  • Low blood pressure

Too low blood sodium levels and adrenal insufficiency are dangerous. Your adrenal glands are important!

However, please note that the odds of you actually having Addison’s Disease are relatively low.

The National Organization for Rare Diseases estimates that only 1 out of 100,000 people have Addison’s Disease.

Best health advice here is to consult your doctor if your symptoms match the ones listed above and you are craving salt.

8 – Not Enough Whole Foods

whole grain fiber bread wheat

If you are not eating a balanced diet with whole foods, then instead of having a reserve of energy, your body will need the quick energy found in salty foods.  You have a salt craving for quick energy because lacking whole foods you have no sustainable energy source.

However, instead of salty foods in reality you just need a more sustainable form of energy which you can find in whole foods. To stop cravings for salt due to bad diet habits:

  • Eat more whole foods and less processed food with high sodium content
  • Recognize hunger versus cravings: try eating protein snacks when hungry instead of reaching for something with salt such as chips or pretzels
  • Eat spicy foods with lots of flavor such as Indian curries to satisfy  your taste buds without adding any extra salt

What vitamin deficiency causes you to crave salt?

If you find yourself craving salt, it could be a sign that you’re deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. While we need a certain amount of salt to stay healthy, craving salt can be a sign that our bodies are trying to tell us something.

There are several different vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can cause cravings for salt. For example, craving salt can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. This is because our body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. When we’re low on iron, we may crave salty foods as our body tries to get more of this essential nutrient.

Another deficiency that may cause us to crave salt is magnesium deficiency. Magnesium helps with hundreds of different biochemical reactions in the body, and it’s essential for proper muscle and nerve function. When we’re deficient in magnesium, we may crave salt as our body tries to get more of this important mineral.

If you find yourself craving salt, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian to see if you might be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. They can help you determine if you need to make any changes to your diet or take any supplements.

Now let’s switch focus and address how to stop your salt cravings!

How to Overcome Salt Cravings?

Let’s review the primary causes of salt cravings real quickly:

  • Dehydration due to not enough water
  • Dehydration due to excessive exercise
  • Stress
  • Not enough sleep
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Addison’s Disease

With these primary causes in mind, we can understand our top way to stop salt cravings is getting enough water.

Easier said than done, but you can focus on drinking water in the following ways:

  • Drink water with meals
  • Carry a reusable water bottle with you
  • Drink water first thing in the morning 
  • Remember that coffee dehydrates you, so drink water with each cup of coffee

As for stress and sleep, well, for starters get more sleep!

Continue reading to learn how you can overcome salt cravings …

What Should I Eat If I Crave Salt?

If you have tried drinking a lot more water and also genuinely feel calm (i.e., not stressed) throughout your day, then it’s possible that your stress cravings are due to an electrolyte imbalance.

The general solution to cure an electrolyte imbalance is to eat a variety of food:

  • Whole grains and carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Good sources of fat
  • Fruits and vegetables

Generally speaking you’ll need to eat a “hearty meal” at least 3x per day. Oftentimes people may eat one or two snacks throughout the day too.

And just to clarify, by “hearty meal” I am talking about a meal that contains at least:

  • A whole grain or carbohydrate
  • A protein
  • A good fat

If you can add in some fruits and vegetables as well in your meals then you’ll be well on your way to curing this salt craving of yours!

But of course the mental side is important too!

What if I am craving salt and tired?

There could be a few reasons why you might be craving salt and feeling tired. It could be that your body is low on electrolytes, which are minerals that help regulate fluid levels in your body.

When you’re sweating a lot or urinating frequently, you can lose electrolytes and become dehydrated, which can cause fatigue and cravings for salty foods.

It’s important to replenish your electrolytes by drinking fluids and eating foods that are rich in electrolytes, such as coconut water, sports drinks, and dark leafy greens.

If you’re craving salt and feeling tired all the time, it could also be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as adrenal fatigue or hypothyroidism. If you’re concerned about your fatigue and cravings, it’s best to talk to your doctor to rule out any potential health issues.

Of course stress another reason. Stress over time will make you feel tired. Take some time for you and try relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. Reducing stress will help improve your energy levels.

Here are some tips to reduce stress:

  • try practicing yoga or other forms of exercise
  • listen to calming music
  • play with your pets
  • hang out with friends and family members
  • schedule some time for yourself during your day, even if it’s just 15 minutes of deep breathing or
  • sip a cup of tea in silence while reading your favorite book
  • do anything that will help you take care of yourself, so you’re ready to tackle whatever is thrown at you next.

Last but not least, check your health with your doctor. It’s unlikely that you have an adrenal insufficiency but still never hurts to visit to check!

What does it mean when you’re craving salty foods? Summary

When you’re feeling a craving for salty foods, it could be due to any number of reasons.

It’s important to listen to your body and figure out what might be causing the cravings in order to address the underlying issue.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as drinking more water or getting more sleep, while other times it might be indicative of a larger health concern that needs attention.

Cravings can be caused by many different things, but most of the time they are simply our body’s way of telling us that it needs something. If you are experiencing cravings, try to figure out what is causing them and address the issue.

Drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, and eat healthy foods to help curb your cravings.

And if all else fails, don’t be afraid to give in every once in a while – just make sure that you do so in moderation!

No matter what the cause, always consult with a doctor if you’re experiencing intense food cravings on a regular basis.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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