Why does the house always win at the “betchya can’t eat just one” betting table?
Because they’re banking on you being part of the human race. So you keep losing all your chips down your face hole in every hand full. Darn it.
Humans are hard-wired to love salt, a craving that hails back to ancient times when salt was a scarce and precious rarity in our diets. We had to search far and wide to get access to natural salt flats, or had to make our way to bodies of sea water and then scrupulously toil away at evaporating and filtering out the cherished, mineral-rich crystalized sea salts.
And why would our ancient ancestors keep going to all this trouble to get this hard-won seasoning? Because we need it. Natural salts, which are mixtures of sodium, chloride and other trace minerals, are crucial to our very survival. Sodium is a critical electrolyte that carries electrical messages throughout the body. It also helps to regulate blood volume and blood pressure by maintaining a good water balance between the inside and outside of your cells and tissues. The important role that sodium and other minerals plays in your health is why humans are instinctually attracted to salty foods, why we have taste buds specifically wired for it, and why our brains light up with hits of pleasure chemicals every time we eat it.
But these healthy functions all hinge upon your body’s ability to maintain a proper balance between sodium, potassium and other essential elements in your body. When we each too much salt, all the many biochemical processes in your body that rely on this critical mineral balance start to fly off the handle, leading to assorted health problems like high blood pressure, weight management issues, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, osteopenia, osteoporosis and others.
And today, we’re no longer clawing our way through salt mines or painstakingly simmering away sea water to get it. Now salt is everywhere. It takes more effort NOT find it, as it lurks in almost every single packaged, processed and pre-prepared food in grocery stores and restaurants.
These days, salt is easy to produce, there’s no real limit to its supply, and it’s one of the most common tricks employed by food manufacturers to make foods last longer on store shelves while acting as a powerful taste enhancer to mask the lost natural flavors that were stripped – along with all of the natural nutrients – during processing.
In short, an evolution-based craving that once ensured our survival has now made us suckers for every cheap, processed, nutritionally empty food out there.
But why? If we were really wired to crave salt when our bodies weren’t getting enough, why do we keep mindlessly munching it in dangerously excessive amounts now, when we’re already getting far too much?
Here are 5 possible reasons your nagging salt cravings won’t quit, and what to do about it.
1. Salt is habit-forming.
Like a pleasant smelling perfume that you enjoyed at first sniff but then can no longer detect after several minutes, the brain quickly adapts to tastants that we get in excess, like salt and sugar. Chronically over-stimulated, your taste buds for salty and sweet flavors soon stop signalling your brain at all, causing you to lose your ability to detect these flavors in your food.
The result: you have to douse your meal with even more salt or sugar to taste them once again. This is how you gradually build up a “tolerance” to salt, and soon enough, wind up eating it in excessive amounts without even realizing it.
To wean yourself off of excess salt, start by halving the amounts you usually put into your foods and recipes, while increasing the use of other healthy herbs and sodium-free spices to help you continue to enjoy your food without finding it bland. Just as your brain adjusted to eating excess salt, it will soon adjust to less and less amounts, and you’ll find yourself desiring it in smaller and smaller quantities (and that the amount of salt you were once accustomed to using now tastes far too salty and unpleasant). Continue reducing the amount of salt in your home cooked meals and allowing yourself to adjust.
It’s also important to cut out canned and packaged foods as much as possible, which are the prime culprits of high sodium, and to cook your own meals. The biggest favor you can do yourself is to eat more fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, fresh sea foods, grains, and lean and unprocessed poultry, all of which are naturally low in sodium.
2. You’re mineral deficient.
Not only sodium tastes “salty” – so can several other minerals and trace minerals. This is why your salt cravings may actually be your body’s way of signaling a deficiency in some other important and vital mineral, like iodine or iron. These mineral deficiencies can be easily checked by your doctor.
Ironically, while eating too much salt often leads to dehydration, a red flag that your body is already dehydrated is the chronic compulsion to eat even more salt. This is because sodium is an important part of our body’s internal water balancing system, helping to keep water in our bodies long enough to hydrate our cells.
So if you find yourself constantly craving salty snacks, try upping your daily water intake instead. Drink at least 8 to 10 tall glasses of pure clean water every day, an additional glass for every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage you drink, and even more if you’re active or living in a hot climate.
4. You’re suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Persistent salt cravings can be a sign of low functioning or underactive adrenal glands, which can occur as a result of a high stress lifestyle, nutritional deficiencies or physical factors. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include very low blood pressure, low energy, bags under your eyes, broken sleep patterns or insomnia, depression, anxiety, etc.
Speak to your doctor about testing your adrenal hormone levels.
5. You have a thyroid problem.
Salt cravings could also be a symptom of low thyroid function. Iodine, a trace mineral found in salt, is a critical nutrient for healthy thyroid hormone production. Other symptoms of low thyroid function include difficulty losing weight, cold hands and feet, chronic fatigue, puffiness, dry skin and constipation. If you suspect a thyroid problem, speak to your doctor about getting tested.