As much as we’re warned to steer clear of salt, our bodies need it to survive. It has an essential role in balancing fluids in the blood in order to maintain healthy blood pressure, as well as keeping our muscles and nerves functioning properly. Getting enough isn’t normally the issue: the average Australian consumes twice the recommended daily intake of salt, which can cause serious health complications.
If you find that you’re constantly craving salty, savoury foods, there’s likely an explanation and a solution. With awareness, simple lifestyle adjustments and easy substitutes, you can make healthier choices that will keep your sodium levels in check.
Reasons why you may be craving salt
There are a number of reasons that may explain your cravings for salt, many of which can be addressed quite easily. Some of these include:
When your body is running low on fluids, salt cravings can be a trigger to signal that you need to drink more water.
When we are under pressure and feeling stressed, our body releases the hormone cortisol. Excessive cortisol levels have been linked to food cravings, meaning that stress-eating could be a legitimate cause for your increased desire to consume sodium-packed processed foods.
When we sweat, we lose sodium through our pores. In an effort to regain balance, our bodies may cue us to crave salty foods to replace lost minerals and electrolytes.
Lack of sleep
Although you may feel you function well on less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep we should be getting each night, how much sleep we get impacts our hormones. This in turn can influence our relationship with food. For instance, poor sleep can lead to:
- Increased cortisol levels.
- Reduced leptin levels – the hormone that tells our brains when we’re full.
- Increased ghrelin levels – the hormone that drives appetite.
- Reduced serotonin levels – the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
This combination of hormones affecting our appetite and our mood can make it difficult to practice self-control when it comes to food.
How much salt do we need?
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, we should be eating no more than 5 grams of salt per day – less than a teaspoon. Our bodies only need 1 – 2 grams in order to replenish our electrolytes and allow our bodies to carry out the functions that rely on this important mineral. Yet studies have revealed most Australians consume around 9 grams per day!
Processed foods are a major culprit, many of which we may not even consider the salt content of. Some of these include:
- Poultry and processed meats, such as bacon and sausages
- Sweets such as biscuits, muffins and cakes
- Bread, cereals, pasta and noodles
- Sauces and dressings
- Indulgent takeaway meals like pizza and burgers
5 ways to control cravings
Eat less processed foods
One of the most effective ways to decrease your salt intake is by including more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole foods into your diet. These foods are naturally low in salt and give your body a wide range of nutrients to boost your overall sense of health and vitality. Even better, growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs enriches your home-cooking with more flavour and provides an even more potent source of nutrients.
Preparing your meals in advance whenever possible will also help keep you away from resorting to quick and convenient processed or takeaway meals that skyrocket your daily sodium intake.
Season with herbs and spices
We tend to naturally reach for salt to add flavour to our meals, but swapping it out for other herbs and spices gives you a tasty alternative that lowers your salt intake without sacrificing taste.
If dehydration is a trigger for your salt cravings, increasing your fluids may be just what you need to help get them under control. As a rule, men are advised to drink 2.5L of water per day and women 2L. If you know you’re not reaching these targets, some ways in which you can increase your fluids include:
- Infusing your water with fruits and herbs for flavour
- Eating hydrating foods such as cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries
- Infusing warm water with lemon or honey
Trick your tastebuds
Citrus is a wonderful alternative to bring vibrancy and flavour to your meal. The tartness from a spritz of fresh lemon or orange juice can trick your tongue into thinking you’re eating salty foods. Vinegar also provides a similar flavour profile to sodium and its acidity can help enhance the flavours of your meal.
Take note of food labels
Know your limits and take this into account when choosing your foods for the week. Compare the sodium content per 100 grams between similar products to substitute your regular groceries with alternatives that keep your sodium levels in check.
At Eden Health Retreat, our food philosophy emphasises balance over restriction. Although consuming too much salt can pose significant health threats, these simple adjustments will help tame your cravings without the need to completely eradicate your favourite savoury foods from your diet.
If you have more of a sweet tooth than savoury, click here for seven ways to keep your sugar cravings at bay.