If You're Craving Salty Food, This Might Be Why

Registered dietitians share the truth about why you're craving fries.

It’s normal to crave foods like French fries, chips and instant ramen from time to time. But if you find yourself craving salty foods on a regular basis, it’s worth it to get to the bottom of why because consuming foods high in salt regularly can negatively impact health.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams a day, which is about about a teaspoon of salt—yep, that little! Consuming more than this on a regular basis increases the risk of high blood pressure, which is the major cause of stroke and heart disease. With all those not-so-great health consequences, you may be wondering: Why do I crave salt?

If you’re craving salty foods regularly, your body may be trying to tell you something. Find out straight from dietitians what the underlying message could be. Plus, ways to satisfy your craving while keeping your sodium intake low.

Related: Trying to Cut Back on Salt? Here Are 14 High-Sodium Foods to Avoid (or at Least Eat In Moderation)

8 Possible Reasons Why You're Craving Salty Foods

1. You recently went on a diet

‘Tis the season when millions of Americans vow to eat healthier. If you recently went on a diet, registered dietitian Erica Ingraham, RD, says it could be the reason why you’re craving salty foods that are now “off limits” on your new eating plan. “Research shows that we tend to have stronger cravings for foods we label as ‘bad’ and are trying to restrict,” she says. “If you go on a diet, you will likely start to crave foods that you aren’t supposed to eat, like processed foods.”

Instead of giving yourself strict rules that don’t allow you to enjoy foods with salt—or sugar for that matter—at all, she recommends allowing yourself to eat them in moderation.

Related: The 5 Best Diets to Help Manage Your Weight After 50

2. You’re working out a lot

Something else many people start doing at the beginning of the new year is to intensify their workout habits. If you’ve started doing more HIIT workouts or are going hard at the gym, registered dietitian and author Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, says it could lead to craving salty foods. “Electrolyte imbalances that deplete sodium in the body can trigger a salt craving,” she says.

Registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, adds to this, saying, “We​​ lose sodium in our sweat, so if you work in hot environments, you’re doing some endurance training and workouts, sweat frequently through the night, or routinely sweat through your clothes, then you’re body may be sodium deficient and you’re craving more salt to make up the difference.” It’s important to replenish electrolytes lost during intense exercise after your workout.

3. You regularly eat a lot of salty foods

Though depriving yourself of salty foods can lead to craving them, interestingly, eating them regularly can also lead to wanting them more. Simply put, Zeitlin says that we often crave foods we already eat all the time. If you’re used to having a salty snack every day at 4 p.m., that craving is likely to hit right around this time every day.

Related: Avoiding This Common Mealtime Habit Can Cut Your Risk of Heart Disease

4. You’re about to get your period

Yes, PMS cravings are real and Zeitlin says that salty food is a common one. ”During your period and the time right before, your body is going through hormonal shifts which can contribute to changes in your blood sodium levels and lead to you craving more salt,” she says. Scientific studies back her up, saying that hankering for food foods high in sugar, salt and fat are all common during the premenstrual phase.

5. You’re pregnant

Similarly to how hormones can lead to craving certain foods before your period, Ingraham says the same can happen during pregnancy. “One theory is that this may be due to hormonal changes or an increase in blood volume,” she says. So if you are pregnant and craving pickles, there’s a legit reason why!

6. You’re stressed out

Palinski-Wade says that yet another reason for craving salty foods is when stress levels are high. Feeling stressed raises levels of cortisol (often referred to as the stress hormone) in the brain. High cortisol levels send the message to the body that it’s under threat. The body interprets this as needing more fuel to fight off the threat, leading to craving foods high in salt, sugar and fat.

7. You’re tired

Both Palinski-Wade and Zeitlin say that lack of sleep can also cause cravings for foods that aren’t so healthy. Scientific studies show that lack of sleep puts stress on the body, which raises cortisol levels. And you already know what happens when cortisol levels are raised: The body believes it’s in danger and in need of extra energy. Then, cravings for foods high in salt, sugar and fat kick in.

8. You may have an underlying health condition

Though it’s rare, the dietitians all say that, sometimes, craving salt regularly is an indication of a bigger underlying health condition. “Addison’s disease is a condition where the adrenal glands are unable to produce enough cortisol and aldosterone, which affects how the body balances fluid and sodium levels. This can lead to intense salt cravings,” Ingraham says. Other signs of Addison’s disease include fatigue, muscle weakness, low mood and increased thirst. If you’re worried you may have Addison’s disease, it’s important to see your healthcare provider.

How To Satisfy Cravings for Salty Foods in a Healthy Way

Zeitlin says that if you’re craving salty foods regularly, it’s important to think about the underlying message your body is trying to communicate to you. Is it telling you that you need more sleep? Do you need to find ways to manage all the stressors in your life? Are you not refueling properly after working out? Should you see your healthcare provider to make sure there’s nothing serious going on?

It’s also helpful to know how to get your fix without consuming too much sodium, which can negatively impact health. Zeitlin recommends incorporating different herbs and spices into your meals and snacks, for example, seasoning popcorn with garlic or turmeric. She also recommends including salty foods that have nutrient value in your meals, such as adding diced olives to a salad.

Zeitlin also recommends roasting chickpeas or nuts as a nutrient-rich snack. “This way, you can be mindful of the overall amount of salt you are adding while still getting crunchy, protein snacks,” she says, adding that they can also be used in salads, grain bowls, and stir-fry recipes.

Palinski-Wade points out that the vast majority of sodium intake comes from consuming ultra-processed foods. If you want to minimize your sodium intake, she suggests making an effort to prepare what you eat yourself. That way, you can control how much salt is going into your meals and snacks.

It’s not necessary to avoid salty foods completely; Palinski-Wade points out that the body needs some sodium to function properly. But being mindful of how much salt you’re consuming is important for overall health. That’s why it’s important to know exactly where your salt cravings are coming from so you know how to act accordingly. Managing your cravings just may inspire you to experiment with a whole wide range of other herbs. It’s time to spice up your life!

Next up, see six sneaky sources of sodium you might not know about.