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Here's What Your Salty Food Cravings Mean According To Experts

Your constant cravings for salty foods like hot chips, salted nuts and pretzels can have several meanings -- some more serious than others.

Let's get one thing out the of the way before we get too salty about, well ... salt.

Salt -- known scientifically as sodium chloride -- isn't actually 'bad' for us. In fact, it's essential for our bodies to function.

The primary component of salt is sodium and it does a number of important things, integrative medicine physician Dr Pooja Amy Shah told Well + Good.

It helps maintain healthy fluid levels in your body, ensures proper muscle function and transmits nerve impulses throughout the body.

READ MORE: The Real Reason You Can't Stop Eating At Work

Some experts think that humans are hard-wired to crave salty foods because they often contain important minerals for growth and development.

The problem is, we're eating way too much of it. The average Aussie adult consumes about two teaspoons or 4000mg of salt every day according to the National Health and Medical Research Council. That's double the amount required for good health by the WHO.

It all adds up  -- altogether we're eating enough salt to fill 760 Olympic-sized pools a year which has led to an increase in heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and other issues associated with high sodium consumption.

The rather disturbing fact is that our own sneaky salt-addicted selves are to blame. Sure, 75 percent of the sodium we consume is hidden in processed and packaged foods but a quarter of it is salt that we are continuously adding to food ourselves.

So, why are we dousing our meals in salt? It could be for a few reasons, according to Dr Shah.

You're stressed

When you're stressed you typically get a hankering for comfort food -- which tends to be packed with fat, sugar, and salt, Dr Shah explained.

Instead of reaching for that bag of Doritos next time you're under the pump, try to nix stress another way such as taking a walk, chatting to a friend or meditating.

You're not sleeping well

Poor sleep means poor food choices. That's because your cortisol or 'stress hormone' is elevated when you're tired, explained Dr Shah. This puts stress on the body which -- you guessed it -- leads to craving comforting, salty foods.

Lack of sleep also causes an increase in the 'hunger hormone' ghrelin -- so make sure you're getting some solid shut-eye each night.

READ MORE: New Study Re-Evaluates How Many Eggs We Should Be Eating Per Week

You're caught in a craving loop

Salt cravings are something called a "linked to habit," according to Dr Shah. If you're eating a high-salt diet, your body and brain will crave lots of salt.

"If you want to crave salty foods less, try cutting processed and packaged foods out of your diet for a month," she said.

You're sweating a lot

Sweat contains salt so when we sweat we lose salt but you'd have to be doing some pretty hard-core exercise -- such as running a marathon -- to warrant a salt top-up. As mentioned before, Aussies are getting far more than their daily requirement of salt so the majority of us shouldn't run the risk of low sodium levels.

You have a thyroid or kidney disorder

Craving salt for salt's sake isn't too sinister, however if it's coupled with symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, skin pigment getting darker, and muscle and joint pain then you should see your GP to rule out something more serious.

Addison's disease -- a condition where the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol -- can cause salt cravings as well as Bartter syndrome, a genetic condition that stops the kidneys from reabsorbing sodium.

Feature image: Getty.