by Elaine Gray

Are you always in the mood for something salty? Do you find it hard to say no when asked, “Do you want fries with that”? Do you like to nibble the salt crystals off pretzels? There is nothing wrong with satisfying the occasional craving for salt, but the operative word here is ‘occasional’. Along with sweet, sour, bitter and umami, salt is one of the five basic tastes recognized by the taste buds. Most people consume too much salt, yet salt cravings are still a constant problem. This craving is usually the result of boredom or stress and is occasionally tied to a medical condition. Habit and repeated behavior play a much bigger role in salt preference. If you become accustomed to saltier foods, you will need to maintain that level of salt intake to satisfy your cravings. But at what point do you cross the line into a salt addiction?

The following symptoms may indicate that you are addicted
to salt:
» Swelling in the extremities
» Persistent thirst
» Frequent headaches
» Frequent urination
» Brain fog
» Kidney stones
» High blood pressure
» Bloating
» Muscle cramps

It’s no secret salt enriches the flavor of food, but can it cause an actual addiction? The answer is no, salt is not addicting, but, it does have a highly addictive taste. Our minds and bodies are intended to truly enjoy the taste; hence the innate craving we all have. When you eat salt, the brain explodes with hits of pleasure-chemicals, ensuring we will continue to consume it. The difference between addictive drugs and salt is that we need sodium to live. There is one possible situation that can make salt become addictive, which is if a pregnant mother becomes salt-depleted. When a pregnant woman is given medical advice to follow a low-salt diet, she is more likely to become salt depleted. This may signal the fetus that their environment is lacking salt, causing an over-activation of their salt-hunger. This form of “salt addiction” could potentially follow them into adulthood. In this case, an individual can technically become addicted to salt. This addiction can be prevented by limiting salt intake to the recommended daily allowance.

Is there a difference between sodium and salt?
Sodium is a mineral that helps absorb and transport nutrients, maintain blood pressure, balance fluids, transmit nerve signals and contract muscles. Your body needs sodium to function, but too much or too little can also be harmful. Table salt is composed of two minerals, sodium and chloride. While it is comprised primarily of chloride, salt is still considered to be high in sodium. Water tends to move to higher concentrations of sodium, so the more sodium you consume, the more water your body retains.

Some salt is found in most food; however, far too many people are accustomed to consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of 2,300mg of sodium, or 1,500mg for those with certain medical conditions (like high blood pressure). Most people consume 3,400mg a day, taking them out of the “safe” zone. It’s a common belief that craving salt is an indicator that the body is deficient in something, although this is usually not typically the case. Most salt cravings develop from consumption of unhealthy foods that offer little to no nutritional value. Processed and pre-packaged foods are considered unhealthy, and consuming them results in a craving for salt due to a decrease of sodium in the body.

Break the addiction
Salt is everywhere and in everything. Breaking the cycle of craving salt may not be as easy as just pushing it aside. Convenient foods like breads, sauces and canned vegetables are packed in unnecessary sodium. Substances like monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, disodium phosphate and sodium benzoate contain high amounts of sodium. These salty culprits can be found in condiments, cheese and baked goods. Whether you have a high pressure job that requires long hours or you are a stay-at-home parent dealing with household responsibilities like running the kids around to school and sporting events, we live in a world of high demand and are always on the go.

If you are ready to decrease your salt intake, here are a few ways you can start the transition:
» Read the Nutrition Facts label – food labels can help you limit the amount of sodium in your diet by making it easy to compare one item with another. The nutritional information is based on one serving of that particular food. This is the most common mistake people make when reading the label. The label may indicate 230 calories with 160mg of sodium, but that is per serving.
» Prepare your own meals – cook at home more often. Preparing your own meals allow you to limit the amount of salt in them.
» Think fresh – most sodium is found in processed foods. Buy fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. Fresh foods are generally lower in sodium.
» Skip the salt – keep salt off the counter and dinner table. Use spices, herbs, garlic or lemon juice to season foods. Try black pepper, basil, curry, ginger or rosemary.
» Ask for low-sodium foods when eating out – many restaurants are equipped with lower sodium alternatives, if requested. Have your sauce or dressing on the side so you can control the amount used.
» Rinse canned foods containing sodium – draining and rinsing canned foods reduces the amount of sodium they contain.
» Pay attention to condiments – soy sauce, ketchup, pickles, olives, salad dressings and seasoning packets are high in sodium.
» Reduce portion size – less food means less sodium.

Too much salt may lead to more than having a salt addiction. It can lead to health concerns like high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease. Lowering your salt intake can help lower your risk of these conditions.