Why do I crave salt?

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Are you eating too much salt?
Are you eating too much salt?

Salt cravings are quite common and completely normal. Salt also has a highly addictive taste. It is made up of two chemical elements, Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl).

We are designed to enjoy salt because it’s necessary for survival. Our bodies require sodium for numerous functions – it's essential for the nerves and muscles to function, as well as for maintaining our fluid balance.

Your kidneys regulate your sodium balance by storing it when it's low and expelling any excess through the urine.

The truth about salt

It seems that salt craving is caused by habitually using too much salt. If you become accustomed to sprinkling salt on your food, you start thinking you need it, which can turn into a craving.  

For example, if you like to buy biltong or potato chips at the garage shop on your way home, it may be due to a craving for salt.

If a salt craving occurs suddenly and is not related to a specific activity or time of day, it may be a symptom of a medical condition like Addison’s disease, dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance. You can address this by drinking water and replenishing electrolytes, especially after strenuous exercise. 

How much salt do we actually need?

Research has shown that the average person eats too much salt. The American Heart Association recommends that adults should consume between 1.5 and 2.4g of sodium (one teaspoon of salt) per day. South Africans consume between 6 and 11g, which is two to three times the recommended amount. 

Our intake is split between the salt in processed food and that which is added at home during the cooking process and at the table. Surprisingly, bread is the highest contributor to our daily salt consumption.

So, should we be cooking with Himalayan salt?

Himalayan salt is harvested from a salt mine in Pakistan. The pink colour is derived from trace amounts of iron oxide (rust). It also contains small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, making it only slightly lower in sodium with 36.8% vs. the 39.1% in regular table salt.

Six ways to combat salt cravings

1. Eat the rainbow 

Include a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your diet. This will ensure that you meet your requirements for minerals and other important nutrients. In order to achieve this, it is important to plan your meals in advance!

2. Shop smarter

Try to avoid processed foods. For example, buy a raw chicken and roast it with lemon juice, garlic and rosemary instead of opting for ready-made crumbed chicken schnitzels.

3. Don't add more salt 

Avoid sprinkling salt onto your food at the table. This will change your taste perception and lessen your desire for salt.

4. Be creative

Learn to use a variety of herbs and spices instead of salt or salty seasonings to make food tasty – these can be used fresh or dried. Lemon juice activates the same taste receptors as salt, making it an excellent alternative. Here are some ideas:

  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Herbs (fresh or dried) like parsley, bay leaf, oregano, mixed herbs and rosemary
  • Spices like curry powder, turmeric, nutmeg, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper
  • Garlic, ginger, chili and onion

5. Be careful with your condiments

When using sauces and flavourings such as chicken or vegetable stock powder or liquids, soya sauce, braai spice etc., don't add any more salt. Use salty spreads such as fish paste and Marmite sparingly. Also remember that flavoured salts such as herbal salt, onion salt and garlic salt are not healthier choices.

6. Snack smart 

Replace the salty snacks such as potato chips with the following healthy options:

  • Hummus dips (like red pepper or beetroot hummus) or cottage cheese served with carrot, celery and cucumber sticks
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Edamame beans
  • Avocado and cottage cheese served on crackers with a low sodium content like Pro Vita or rye crackers
  • Sliced apple with peanut butter
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds and chickpeas flavoured with smoked paprika and cumin; turmeric and ginger; or lime and black pepper

Image credit: iStock 

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