Many parents come in asking me about salt cravings in their kids. Seen any of these moves? Kids who lick salt, shake salt heavily onto everything including into water or other drinks, drink pickle juice, love olives and pickles, snack only on salty chips or pretzels, prefer starchy salty food to real food, or will eat meat only if it’s cured (bacon, pepperoni, salami…) are showing that their cells may need something. What does this mean?
To the body, salt isn’t just sodium and chloride. “Salt” can mean other minerals too, like potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and many others. In fact, using just sodium chloride (which is ordinary table salt, like Morton’s), may deplete other minerals, and cause you to crave more salt – when your body may need other minerals as well. And if you truly lack sodium (an essential mineral that we need every day) then you will crave it, to the point where your taste buds will be altered to “like” a lot more salt than usual.
Salt in the US is mostly eaten from processed foods – pasta, bread, baked goods, yogurt, cheese, soft drinks, fast food, microwaveable frozen meals, condiments, sauces, mac and cheese from a box, soup from a can – you name it, it has salt in it. Even without salting food, unless you are scratch cooking everything and controlling your seasonings, your kids are probably eating a lot of salt. Salt in processed foods is typically sodium chloride, and not the healthier blend of minerals found in natural sources like sea salt or Himalayan salt – either of which I recommend for your kitchen.
Salt cravings are a tip that your child’s body might need more minerals, or that some minerals, including sodium, are being depleted too quickly. Common causes of wasting minerals are anxiety, stress (physical exertion, like a soccer game; or emotional stress, like nightmares, homework, school problems, family tensions), illnesses or infections, night sweats, or fever.
If your child has a chronic inflammatory condition like asthma or food allergies, this too may induce a desire for salty foods – because when there is inflammation, the body releases more coritsol and other hormones from the adrenal glands. These hormones both rely on and regulate minerals, and influence everything from blood volume to urine output and stress response. Salt cravings can mean minerals are lacking or imbalanced, or that the adrenal glands are struggling to keep up. Cortisol is vital to our well being – but too much of it is draining, depleting, and immunosuppressive. Too little of it leaves us extremely fatigued, dizzy, or confused. Besides craving salty stuff, you might see these signs too:
– muscle cramping easily on exertion
– dizzy when changing position (sitting to standing)
– low mood
Making sure your kids get mineral-rich foods every day can help. Filling up on sugary or starchy processed food displaces mineral rich foods. It also takes a lot of mineral co-factors to digest and process sugar. Eat more mineral rich foods, and add a good mineral supplement if your child isn’t eating enough of those. Foods like homemade soup or bone broths, stews, vegetables, sea weeds, nuts and seeds (or their butters), greens, pork, eggs, scallops (if you can find them and are comfortable with eating them), and fresh herbs are great ways to add minerals every day. Think arugula, basil, thyme, mint, cilantro, red butter lettuce, chard, beet greens, or kale. All of these work fresh and raw in smoothies, seared or roasted with vegetables, or simmered in stews and broths. Even dried thyme will add notable amounts of iron, calcium, and manganese to food. Fruits are less of a go-to for minerals than vegetables, so if you’re doing fruit smoothies often, great – now add some greens!
For a supplement, you may need to add a multi-mineral for your child. Kids’ multivitamins often have either no minerals or only very low doses of just one or two minerals. Here’s an example: Kids need anywhere from 10 to 30 mg or more zinc daily, depending on what they already eat and what their health conditions are. If your child uses a chewable multi and it has only 2 mg of zinc, get them eating nuts, seeds, pork, and other zinc-rich foods or add a multi-mineral option. Products with or without copper or iron are available, if your child needs to minimize those two minerals. Have a look at Klaire LDA Trace Mineral Complex or Vital Nutrients Multi-Mineral Citrate (without copper or iron) for starters. For a well rounded multivitamin that also has minerals, one of my top choices is Kirkman Thera Response. I use these for children and like that the capsules are small enough for even young kids to swallow in many cases. You can order any of these sold-to-provider-only products by logging in to the Emerson Ecologics website with access code MyNCFC and password 80303, or just call them at 1-800-654-4432. They will give you a 10% discount on anything you order, when using my log in information.
What about those adrenal glands? Salt cravings may mean these glands are drained and depleted. These are tiny thumb-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys – but they are your body’s main “shock absorbers” – and they work hard. They regulate just about everything in the body, directly or indirectly. They need an array of minerals to manage fluid balance and blood pressure. They also directly control stress responses, by manufacturing hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and aldosterone. Your adrenal glands rely on a steady flow of varied minerals, fats, and protein to build this stuff and make it all work.
Don’t skimp on healthy salt in your kids’ diets, but leave the processed sodium chloride foods behind. Add culinary sea salt or Himalayan salt to your meals and let your kids salt their food. If they continue to have big cravings, let’s talk – there may be underlying issues that need attention, so their adrenal glands can function better. And have a look at Chris Kresser’s great piece on why salt restriction is not a good thing.