How Low-Salt Diets Give Fuel to Addictions

I can’t vouch for this, but I am a salt person, so I embrace the support…

Dr. James DiNicolantonio explains that salt itself is not addictive, but there is a connection between salt and addiction. This connection is that being salt deprived makes you more vulnerable to addictive substances, including sugar.

The worst that can happen if you gorge on salt and eat too much is that your kidneys will not absorb it all. In other words, you won’t use it. Salt craving are a sign of needing more salt. Not having enough salt causes an imbalance in your bodies fluid-salt-electrolyte system.

There are certain actions and behaviors that create more need more salt. For example, caffeine increases sodium excretion and so those who drink a lot of caffeine need to consume more salt. Another activity that causes you to dump sodium is exercise, for every hour of exercise you lose 2g of salt.

This is why sportspeople consume Gatorade and other electrolyte drinks. The problem with those drinks is the other garbage they contain. Wouldn’t it be simpler to throw a little salt and lemon in your water after a workout? Or eat a few olives before the workout?

Despite all of this established science low-salt diets are still frequently prescribed by doctors.

Although salt is not addictive our brain does have a reward system surrounding salt. When we need more this system in our brain turns up, and when we eat salt we are rewarded with pleasure. But when we get enough salt, the system turn back down, and we do no longer get a pleasure reward.


Restricting salt wakes up the reward system in our brain.

This does not only give us a reward for eating salt, but makes us vulnerable to other addictive substances, because the whole system in the brain is turned up. The addictive pathways in our brain are more sensitive and this means we are more likely to struggle with truly addictive substances, such as sugar, heroin and cocaine.

The good news is that as soon as we get enough salt, our brain turns down this addiction/reward pathway from high to normal.

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