Enhanced salt appetite, diet and drinking in traditional Bedouin women in the Negev

Micah Leshem, Amany Saadi, Nesreen Alem, Khadeja Hendi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Negev Bedouin are desert dwellers in high summer heat and scarce shade and water. They are under pressure to cease their traditional way of life. To document, while still possible, how traditional Bedouin nutritional habits may have accommodated to these conditions, we evaluated sodium appetite, diet and drinking in Bedouin women (n=31) who still partially maintained their traditional way of life in isolated tribal encampments in the spring of 2005. Data were compared to urban Bedouin women (n=15), and to urban Jewish women (n=15) representing mainstream dietary habits in the same region, and to published data. About 60% (by energy) of the encampment diet is traditional, but this proportion is reduced in summer. Encampment Bedouin women rated concentrated salt solution as more preferred than other groups, added 40% more salt to an ideal test soup and had a ∼50% greater absolute dietary sodium intake. The sodium content of the traditional Bedouin diet is ∼25% higher than the Jewish women's diet. This enhanced sodium appetite is reflected in the value of salt in their folklore. The possible causes of the enhanced salt appetite are considered. In addition, dietary intake (M=3470, SE=285 kcal) was ∼50% greater than in urban Jewish women. Fluid intake (∼2.4 L/d) was ∼20% greater than Jewish women, but may have been inadequate in the exposed encampments because 8 of the 31 women reported an occurrence of dehydration, 6 of them while pregnant. Encampment women BMI (30.3±1.1 kg/m2) was high, and health problems were typical of populations in transition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-82
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the Israel Science Foundation Grant No. 902/00, and the Edelstein Foundation For Population Studies to ML. We are grateful to Mr. Said Al-Sana of Ben-Gurion University for invaluable help, and to Mr. Eyal Shoval, for the study of urban Bedouin and Jewish women.


  • Bedouin
  • Desert
  • Diet
  • Drinking
  • Negev
  • Salt
  • Salt appetite
  • Sodium appetite
  • Tradition
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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