Why You Crave Salty Snacks When You're Stressed

08/04/2011 09:58 | Updated 22 May 2015

If you're the kind of person who turns to comfort food when you're under pressure, what type of food do you instinctively choose: sweet or salty? If the only thing that makes you feel better is chips, crisps, salted nuts or other savoury snacks, scientists think they know why.

chips-French-fries-salt-stressDo salty foods make you feel calmer? Photo: Getty, Stockdisc

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, psychiatrists from the University of Cincinnati suggest high levels of salt in your bloodstream helps to lower the levels of stress hormones. Not just that, but it raises your levels of oxytocin too - a feel-good hormone that scientists believe we produce when we fall in love, for instance, or when a mother bonds with her baby.

The researchers carried out tests on lab rats to find out how they responded to stress. The animals that were fed salty foods prior to the tests were found to have less activity in the parts of their brains associated with processing stress compared to those who had eaten food with a normal salt level.

The animals with high levels of salt recovered faster after being stressed too. Brain scans also showed they had higher levels of oxytocin when they had more salt in their systems (a condition known as hypernatremia).

There may also be another reason why salty food makes you feel calmer. When you eat a lot of salt, it makes you thirsty so you drink more. And that might also explain why you feel less stressed.

What's the first thing you crave when you're in a stressful situation?

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