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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Craving salt but not sure why? Don't worry, you aren't alone.
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
There are, however, some benefits of having salt in your diet.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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:
Read on to find out about some of the side effects that may come from eating too much salt.
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.
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.
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.
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
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.