We often think about craving sugar. But what about salt? So many of my clients (and I include myself in this) crave salty things. Why? Well, salt cravings can be due to a vitamin/mineral deficiency and/or an addiction to salt because it stimulates the dopamine pleasure receptors in our brains. Generally, both deficiency and addiction come into play, particularly since our food industry creates, targets, and “feeds” our sugar and salt addictions. (Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss is an interesting read!)
So, what can we do?
1. FIRST-- let’s look at the vitamins and minerals you need as part of a healthy diet:
Calcium and Magnesium:
Low levels of these two minerals—which often go hand in hand—prime you for sugar and salt cravings. Low magnesium levels, specifically, are known to trigger chocolate cravings. Both stress and eating too much sugar can deplete your calcium and magnesium stores further, worsening cravings and making you a prime stress-eating candidate.
(A) Food: Get your calcium fix from dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and cheese; bone-in sardines; and dark leafy greens. Hit your magnesium quota by downing nuts, seeds, potato skins, dairy, and broccoli.
(B) Supplements: Calcium with Vitamin D—I like Citracal plus D slow release: Magnesium 400 mg.
This class of vitamins is important because it helps your body deal with stress. B vitamins like B1 and B5 keep your adrenal glands functioning properly, and B6 and B9 aid in the formation of certain neurotransmitters that help regulate mood and make you feel good. In periods of high stress, your body uses up these vitamins more quickly, making you prone to the effects of stress—like overeating—if your levels aren't sufficient. Other things that deplete our vitamin B include caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars, and medications like NSAIDs (Advil, etc).
(A) Food: B vitamins are found in a wide array of meats, seafood, dairy, and produce such as dark leafy greens, bananas, potatoes, avocados, egg yolks, chicken, salmon, and yogurt—so ensure you're getting enough variety in your diet. Big salads are perhaps the best way to get these vitamins. But vegetarians and vegans don’t get any source of Vitamin B from food, so be sure to take a supplement!
(B) Supplements: Find a good Vitamin B complex because that will give you the proper balance of the essential vitamins and doses you need.
This mineral tends to be low in older people and anyone under a lot of stress—hello, that's like everyone. It's not so much that low zinc makes you crave, but it does significantly dull your sense of taste, prompting you to add more salt and sugar to foods while seeking out extra sugary and salty items before you're truly satisfied.
(A) Food: This mineral isn't easy to find, but it's most prevalent in some animal sources like oysters, crab, liver, dark chicken meat, and to a lesser extent, eggs, green peas, and nuts.
(B) Supplement: We only need a trace amount of zinc for good health, only about 8-10 mg. However, zinc supplements are generally found in 50 mg and 100 mg tablets. The 50 mg tablet is fine because your body only absorbs about 20% of the zinc in the tablet. DO NOT take the 100 mg tablet, it is too much for almost everyone.
2. Second--let’s address the addiction aspect of your cravings and what you can do about it:
(A) Clean out your pantry! Get rid of all the processed and refined foods in your house so that they are simply not there for you to eat and MAKE THE COMMITMENT TO GO ONE WEEK WITHOUT ANY SALTY SNACKS. We can all do something for one week, so let’s start there. The longer you go without salty snacks, the less you will crave them and your taste buds will be far more alert to the saltiness.
If complete cold turkey is too difficult, LET’S COMMIT TO THIS:
Remove 2 salty snacks from your diet every week. This can be a way to start on the path to getting rid of salt cravings by eliminating them each week.
(B) Next--keep a food diary and don’t cheat! It’s actually better if you write down or make note of what you are eating before you actually eat it because it may prevent you from eating the salty snack altogether. Be sure to note how you are feeling and WHY you feel the need for the salty snack. Often, we are eating because of emotions (sadness, loneliness, boredom, anger) and we need to address the emotions, otherwise, we will not get rid of the cravings. Willpower is not enough when cravings and bingeing are related to our emotions and those emotional needs go unaddressed.
(C) Be sure to eat 3 meals a day! Often we binge in the evenings because we’ve starved ourselves all day and then we grab the craved food to satisfy us. So, plan on eating 3 meals a day. Include protein and lots of vegetables! Breakfast may be more difficult to fit in vegetables—but be sure to have protein and/or real whole grains such as steel-cut oatmeal or a slice of Ezekiel bread with peanut butter or avocado or an egg.
3. This is probably the most important thing you can remember…BE KIND TO YOURSELF!!
Don’t beat yourself up if you give in to a craving (because it’s probably going to happen). Instead, remind yourself that you are human, you are a good person, that you are doing your best…and move on. Don’t get caught up in the silly thought of being “bad” or “good” because of what you ate. Just notice why you ate what you did, how you were feeling at the time, how you felt after, and move on to the next thing in your life. Stay confident and believe in yourself. Consider these affirmations when you are feeling bad or feeling as if you “failed”. Use whichever ones work for you to remind yourself of your inherent goodness and power:
1. I love and respect myself; I am worthy of love.
2. My body is a temple. I want to treat it with love and respect.
3. My body is a gift.
4. Food doesn’t have to be the enemy, it can be nurturing and healing.
5. Life is too short and too precious to waste time obsessing about my body. I am going to take care of it to the best of my ability and get out of my head and into the world.
6. Food doesn’t make me feel better, it just temporarily stops me from feeling what I’m feeling.
7. I have everything inside of me that I need to take care of myself without using food.
8. When I look to others to dictate who I should be or how I should look, I reject who I am.
9. The last thing I should be doing is rejecting myself. Accepting myself as I am right now is the first step in changing, growing, and evolving. When I reject myself, I cannot grow.
10. I can only go forward, so although I can learn from it, I refuse to dwell on the past.
With love and kindness,