Why You Crave Salty Foods and How to Prevent This Craving

Popcorn

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Do you find yourself daydreaming of movie theater popcorn? Snacking on a bag of pretzels at your desk? Ordering those extra salty mashed potatoes from your favorite restaurant? If so, your body might be craving salt. Although salt seasoning is addictive, satisfying to the palate, and necessary for survival, a salt craving is often a symptom of a number of health conditions.

To help curb future salt cravings, you can try incorporating a few food products into your diet and implement the following tips to reduce your sodium intake. This will aid in curtailing your taste for salt over time.

How Much Salt Should You Eat?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans should intake less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, an equivalent to one single teaspoon of salt. To put this amount in perspective, here are some examples of how fast sodium can add up in what you eat in a day:

  • Breakfast: A bowl of cereal with skim milk has 250 milligrams of sodium.
  • Lunch: A cup of soup with a turkey sandwich has 2,200 milligrams of sodium.
  • Dinner: A slice of pizza and a small salad have 710 milligrams of sodium.

This equals 3,160 milligrams of sodium for three meals—and no snacks—already more than what you should consume in a day.

Why You Crave Salty Foods

You crave salty foods for a number of reasons, often related to some type of sodium imbalance. If you tend to crave salt often, you shouldn’t ignore this; salt cravings could signal a deeper health condition.

Dehydration

Craving salt might mean you need to drink more water. A sodium deficiency triggers hormonal systems that elicit cravings for salty food, and your body feels rewarded when you consume salty foods.

To combat this from happening, you should always stay on top of your daily hydration. The Institute of Medicine recommends that your total water intake from all foods and liquids is 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women.

Do you find yourself dehydrated often? Following these tips can help you drink more water:

  • Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day, making drinking water accessible.
  • Add fruit or fresh herbs to your water for flavor, encouraging you to drink it more often.
  • Freeze water bottles so you have ice cold water readily available.
  • Ask for water, instead of another beverage, when dining out.

Addison's Disease

Addison’s disease is a disorder in which your adrenal glands don’t make enough of certain hormones, such as cortisol (often called the stress hormone). With this health condition, you might need a high-sodium diet. A health care professional can recommend what sodium sources and how much sodium are best for your disorder.

Electrolyte Imbalance

When your electrolytes are out of equilibrium, your body can crave salty foods due to a water imbalance. Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Electrolytes are in your blood, urine, and tissues, and their levels can sometimes become too high or too low. This occurs when the amount of water you take in doesn't equal the amount of water you lose because of excessive sweating, sickness, frequent urination, or drinking too many watery beverages.

Electrolytes are important because they help balance your body's water equilibrium and pH levels, move nutrients and waste into and out of your cells, and ensure your nerves, muscles, and brain function to the best of their abilities.

Pregnancy

Experiencing various types of cravings during pregnancy is a phenomenon that naturally occurs. Such cravings can include salty substances, although preference for and intake of salty foods often occurs in the later stages of pregnancy.

Pre-Menstruation

Women can experience an increase in food cravings during pre-menstrual hormonal changes, which includes an appetite for salty foods.

Boredom

Eating due to boredom is an emotional eating behavior, similar to stress eating. This is a response to negative emotions and can happen to anyone, at any weight. Instead of emotional eating, people should work through their negative thoughts through mindful eating, exercise, and other valuable stress reduction strategies, such as meditation, spending time in green spaces, and seeking out meaningful visits with friends and family.

Stress

Your eating behavior can quickly be disrupted when you experience stressful situations. If you tend to eat a lot of salty foods during normal, non-stressful times, your body could feel better when stressed by eating foods that you typically prefer.

Foods to Prevent Salty Cravings

You can replace sodium with salt-free substitutes without sacrificing taste. Options include the following:

Citrus

Using fresh citrus juice can brighten up dishes with acid. When a dish tastes a bit flat, a little acid from lemon juice can help make the food more palatable.

Herbs

Sprinkling a small amount of oregano on your popcorn and vegetables follows the style of Mediterranean dishes. You don’t need to add too much, as this herb can taste bitter with overuse.  

Vinegar

According to Consumer Reports, vinegar can brighten the flavor of foods because of its acid
content and serve as a substitute for salt.

With zero calories and sodium, vinegar (except for balsamic vinegar) can lend a hearty, and overall healthy, flavor. You can also shake up the vinegar type with champagne, rice wine, or white balsamic for even more tang.

No-Salt Seasoning Blends

You can skip the salt and use a salt-free seasoning blend, sold both online and in grocery stores from a variety of manufacturers. Some products are available in a shakable bottle or packet. Be sure to use lightly; tap only a small amount out of the packet and save the rest for another snack or meal.  

You can also make your own no-salt seasoning mix using any number of ingredients, such as onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and dry mustard.  

Garlic Salt

You can create your own lower sodium garlic salt than what you purchase in stores using a three-to-one salt-to-garlic ratio, which matches in flavor to most commercial brands, according to research published in the Brazilian journal Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências.

Garlic

Using one teaspoon of fresh garlic for a pungent flavor in place of one teaspoon of iodized salt can eliminate up to 2,360 mg of sodium, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central.

Carrots

Instead of crunchy popcorn laced with salt and butter, carrots can offer a similar texture, along with anti-diabetic, cholesterol-lowering, and anti-hypertensive health benefits.

You can purchase pre-peeled small carrots, making this a no-fuss snack.

Potassium-Enriched Salt Substitutes

According to a study in Hypertension, most individuals can’t distinguish in flavor between regular salt and potassium-enriched salt substitutes containing no greater than 30 percent potassium chloride (so read the label).

The study also notes that potassium-enriched salt substitutes can retain flavor and palatability for “food acids and amino acids; umami substances; and various mixtures of spices and flavors” as long as a low percentage of potassium chloride is used.

How to Reduce Salt Consumption

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that if you reduce the amount of sodium you consume, you can actually gradually lower your craving for the seasoning. Taking these steps can help you do this:

  • Limit your consumption of packaged foods, especially ones with “instant” in the name. These usually contain a hefty amount of sodium.
  • Prepare your own lunch to bring to work, if possible.
  • Read the nutrition labels to ensure the products you consume contain at least less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the recommended daily value for sodium that should not be exceeded.
  • Take precautions with vegetables. Stick to fresh, frozen with no seasoning added, or no-salt canned vegetables only.
  • Check protein packages to see if saltwater was added.
  • Split entrées when eating out or immediately cut your meal in half and put the food in a to-go bag to stave off eating the high amounts of sodium found in restaurant offerings.
  • Ask for salad dressing on the side.
  • Review sodium nutritional information on a restaurant’s website before ordering.

A Word from Verywell

The majority of America’s sodium intake comes from packaged foods, pizza, burgers, and soup. To limit your sodium consumption, try using seasoning blends, spices, and crunchy vegetables to curb your sodium intake and salt cravings over time. If you continue to have salt cravings, you might want to seek the advice of a health care professional for an evaluation of your nutrition and lifestyle.

 

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Article Sources
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