There’s a lot of information out there about food cravings and what to do about them.
Cravings for salty snacks can be incredibly confusing since humans need sodium — just not as much as we get daily (the RDA is 2300 mg for adults).
“Many people think that the body craves what it needs,” says BODi Senior Nutrition Manager Krista Maguire, R.D., C.S.S.D.
“However, most of the time, it’s just a specific yearning for comfort food, and that often includes foods high in sugar or salt,” she explains.
The most likely culprits when you’re craving snack foods: stress and boredom.
But other factors that have nothing to do with nutrients your body needs can also cause salt cravings.
A yearning for salty snacks “may be due to hormone fluctuations,” explains Maguire, which you may experience from stress, lack of sleep, or PMS.
Instead of pounding the pretzels, try these alternative strategies.
1. Figure Out the Cause
The most direct way to tackle your cravings, especially if they occur regularly, is to get to the root cause.
“We often try to cure things with a band-aid solution when we should be digging deep to resolve the underlying issue,” says Maguire.
So take a couple of minutes to think about what’s happening in your life.
You may need to seek out ways to destress or entertain yourself. You may even be low on sleep.
All of these things have solutions outside of the pantry.
2. Reach for Water, then Reevaluate
“Dehydration usually results in an electrolyte balance,” explains Jim White, R.D., ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia.
“The salt craving is the body’s way of telling you to drink more water in order to restore the fluid balance,” but we generally misinterpret it.
It’s hard to differentiate between the two because “they are controlled by the same mechanisms in the brain,” says White.
So when salty cravings strike, try drinking some water first (you probably need it anyway) and see if the urge to nosh passes.
3. Seek Out Low-Sodium Options
Healthier snack foods are more widely available now than ever — check some labels in the grocery store aisles to find them.
You may find that lower sodium snacks satisfy your cravings just as well as those that overload your day with salt.
“If you can keep snacks to under 200 mg of sodium, that will leave plenty of room for your meals and not exceed your daily limit,” says Maguire.
Keep in mind that it’s not really a problem to have something salty when a craving hits; it’s the fact that we tend not to stick to a single serving.
Whether you’re enjoying a low-sodium snack or a traditional salty treat, mindful servings can help you meet your daily sodium goals.
4. Flavor Your Snacks with Spices
Salt can enhance the flavor of food — but spices do the same thing without sodium.
Maguire suggests using fresh or dried herbs and spices to infuse your snacks or meals with more flavor.
Be careful when picking out spice blends, though, as these may have added salt.
5. Try Unsalted, Crunchy Snacks
Most salty cravings revolve around crunchy snacks, which begs the question: do you want salt or crunch?
You may be satisfied with an unsalted, crunchy snack — especially if you’re stress-snacking and it helps release some tension.
White suggests veggies like baby carrots or celery with hummus, unsalted nuts and seeds, or air-popped popcorn seasoned with herbs as crunchy alternatives to try.
You can also try making our salt-free kale chips.
6. Break the Habit
“If you are used to eating a high-sodium diet, your body will naturally crave the higher sodium foods because that is what it is used to getting,” White says.
Dealing with some cravings now may lead to fewer down the road.
White suggests starting by evaluating how many packaged foods you’re eating.
“The convenience of packaged snacks makes it easy for sodium intake levels to exceed daily recommendation and contribute to the cravings,” he explains.
7. Reach for a Balanced Snack or Meal
You may have cravings because you need food (shocker, we know).
Instead of grabbing a salty snack that’s primary carbs, try a meal or snack that balances all of the macros to keep you full for longer.
These no-bake peanut butter pretzel bites are sweet and salty but also balanced to keep your blood sugar steady and your hunger in check.