Why Am I Craving Salt? What It Means When You Crave Salty Foods


If you’re like me, you crave sweets at the end of the day. If you’re like my husband, you crave salt in the mornings. Bacon, anyone? But have you ever stopped to think why you are craving certain things? According to experts, there is often a reason why these cravings occur. Here’s what we’ve learned from the pros.

What It Means When People Crave Sugar

Board-certified holistic nutritionist Jennifer Hanway says there are many factors that can contribute to sugar cravings. “These include blood sugar imbalances, neurochemical aspects, low magnesium levels, and and even the composition of our gut microbiome,” she says.

“Imbalanced blood sugar levels—think spikes and crashes—can trigger sugar cravings,” Hanway explains. “When blood sugar levels rise rapidly after consuming high-sugar or high-carb foods, the body releases insulin to help regulate the influx of glucose. However, this rapid insulin response can lead to a subsequent drop in blood sugar. As a result, it creates a sensation of low energy and triggers cravings for quick sources of fuel, such as sugar. This cycle of fluctuating blood sugar levels can contribute to a pattern of recurrent sugar cravings.” Low magnesium levels can also lead to blood sugar imbalances and subsequent sugar cravings.

A dip in blood sugar can also occur when you’ve gone too long without eating. “This is called hypoglycemia,” says registered dietitian Elizabeth DeRobertis. “In this case, you feel like you need something sweet as a pick-me-up to help reverse the low blood sugar.”

Another cause for sugar cravings is actually eating sugar. “People crave sugar once they’ve had some in their system,” says DeRobertis. “It triggers the addictive component that some people feel when they consume it.” Hanway adds, “When sugar is detected by our taste receptors, signals are sent to the brain’s reward centers, which releases dopamine, one of our ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters. When we have excessive amounts of sugar in our diet, this can lead to a diminished sensitivity to dopamine. As a result, it requires higher sugar consumption to achieve the same pleasurable response.”

Hanway also points to an imbalance in the gut microbiome as a culprit for sugar cravings. “Certain microorganisms found in the gut microbiome can affect appetite-regulating hormones and neurotransmitters. They may also alter signaling pathways in the gut-brain axis. This influences cravings for high-carb and high-sugar foods.” 

What It Means When You Crave Salt

According to DeRobertis, a salt craving could come from being dehydrated. Or, it may mean that your body is missing any of the trace minerals it needs. “The body needs calcium, magnesium, zinc and other minerals to keep its systems running smoothly,” she says. “Many minerals have a salty flavor. So, when you get the message to eat more salt, your body may be telling you that it needs more minerals. Also, when you become dehydrated, you need a little more salt to bring your electrolytes back in line and keep retaining the water you need. Dehydration can be caused by exercise and drinking alcohol, among other things.”

Hanway says there is also “some evidence that dysregulated cortisol—the body’s stress hormone—may also play a role if you’re craving salt.” A standard blood test can determine if your cortisol levels are off balance. According to the Mayo Clinic, an uncommon condition called Addison’s disease causes the adrenal glands to work insufficiently, and the body produces too little cortisol. Individuals with Addison’s disease may experience “new, ongoing and excessive” salt cravings.

So how can you prevent it? “Make sure to drink plenty of water every day and extra water when you drink alcohol or exercise,” says DeRobertis, who notes that salt cravings could also be due to habit. “Some people who were brought up eating foods with a higher sodium content may find that they crave salty foods more often.”

 





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