Sometimes, you just want something salty: potato chips, pretzels, french fries. When that salty craving strikes, it can be tough to say no to these packaged, processed snacks, which makes staying on track with your nutrition a tall order. So, why are salty cravings so common, and what can you do about them?
Salt, or sodium, is an indispensable electrolyte involved in all kinds of body processes, from fluid balance in your cells to the proper functioning of muscles and nerves, explains Silvia Carli, RD. In many cases, salty food cravings are related to dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, she says. “If this is the case, it’s simply our body trying to tell us to eat or drink more.” If you’re experiencing symptoms like fatigue, headache or elevated heart rate, dehydration is likely behind your salt cravings, Carli adds.
Another reason you might crave salty foods? Pure habit. “We crave what we already eat, so if you’re eating a high-sodium diet, your body is likely to crave more salt, since that’s what it’s used to getting,” says Abby Vichill, RDN. “By limiting packaged and processed foods, these cravings will start to diminish.”
Lastly, salt cravings could be related to health conditions like heart problems, stress or PMS. They’re also common in pregnancy, says Kimberly Hagenbuch, a registered dietitian with Sodexo North America. Sodium is an essential nutrient, so you don’t want too much or too little of it, she notes. Ideally, you want to stick close to the daily recommended value of 2,300mg to ensure you’re getting enough but not put yourself at risk for health problems like high blood pressure.
So, when a salt craving strikes, what can you do? First, drink some water. “The body may need more fluid, and hydrating with water may do the trick,” says Hagenbuch. If that doesn’t work, try these nutrition-pro-approved snacks.
“This is a simple snack, but a satisfying one as the protein content in cheese will curb your hunger and satisfy your salty craving,” explains Hagenbuch. She recommends starting with 1 ounce of your favorite higher-protein cheese (Think: cheddar, Swiss or gouda). “Pair with your favorite fruit to add more fiber to your snack. The combination may also satisfy that salty-sweet craving.”
Opt for lightly salted nuts for a satisfying snack, Vichill advises. “Nuts are rich in nutrients, especially omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3’s are nutrients that help squash inflammation, support blood sugar control, improve cognitive function, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Nuts are also composed primarily of dietary fat and protein, which will help increase fullness.”
“This is a stock made by simmering bones of animals in a pot of water,” explains Hagenbuch. “The recipe usually adds vinegar, salt, pepper, herbs and carrots to taste. The marrow within the bones breaks down into a nutritious broth, which contains vitamins, minerals, connective tissue and collagen.” Whether you buy pre-made bone broth or opt to make your own, it can really help on both fronts with salt cravings, since it’s both hydrating and salty.
Celery actually has one of the highest sodium contents compared to other vegetables, providing about 30–50 milligrams of sodium in one medium stalk,” notes Rachel Werkheiser, RD. It’s a good pick for squashing cravings because it has a crunchy texture we often seek in snack foods, and can also satisfy the taste for something salty, she says. Plus, it supplies fiber and a variety of micronutrients.
Another protein-rich option, Vichill recommends chowing down on some beef jerky. “Having something high in protein when you’re craving salt and sweets can be a phenomenal way to satisfy the craving without going bananas on an entire bag of chips,” she says. “Protein increases satiety hormones in a way that chips and other refined carbs don’t.” Choosing a high-quality jerky that’s raised sustainably means nutrients are more plentiful in the product, Vichill adds.
There’s a reason cottage cheese is a go-to option for dietitians: It’s a nutritional powerhouse. “It contains about 350mg of sodium per serving to curb your craving, plus a whole lot of nutritious protein to keep hunger away,” explains Carli. Top it with fruit, dip veggies in it, or eat it plain.
“Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut add a tangy flavor to food that’s comparable to saltiness,” says Amy Davis, RD. Other fermented options include kefir, kombucha and pickled vegetables.
If you’ve got a craving for fries you can’t kick, try making some homemade, lightly salted and seasoned sweet potato wedges. “The problem with fries from a fast-food restaurant is that they’re typically made with poor quality oil, salt and seasoning that completely negates the nutritional benefits of the potatoes,” says Vichill. Using your own oil (Vichill likes coconut or avocado oil) and seasoning makes for a delicious and satisfying snack.
By preparing edamame at home, you can control how much salt you add, Carli points out. Edamame is also a great source of plant-based protein.
If you’re trying to reduce your salt consumption, fresh or dried herbs like basil, parsley, mint and dill add a ton of flavor without any extra salt, says Davis. “Try blending some herbs into Greek yogurt, then dipping carrots or cucumbers into it.” You’ll get a hit of protein plus a tangy salt-like flavor — a win-win.
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps or learning to track macros. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.