7 Reasons Why You Always Crave Salt—and How to Keep Salty Food Cravings in Check
The age-old question: Are you a salty food or a sweet food person? There's a time and place for both (and don't even get us started on sweet-and-salty snacks!)—but there's something extra satisfying about the salty goodness of pretzels, popcorn, and potato chips, especially if your food preferences lean savory. It's not just french fries, dumplings, and bacon, either. Nutrient-dense foods can often satisfy that "salty tooth," too—think: edamame, guacamole, and pistachios. Whatever salty bite you're munching on, it can feel impossible to stop after just one. But how much is too much?
We're warned pretty often about the perils of consuming too much sugar, but seem to hear less about how to keep salt cravings and consumption in check. What's fueling your salty food pangs, are they hurting your health, and what can you do about it? We spoke to three registered dietitians, Elysia Cartlidge, MAN, RD, Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES, and Jamie Lee McIntyre, MS, RDN CD-N, to get to the bottom of your hankering for salt and how to help moderate your sodium intake.
How much salt is OK to eat?
Sodium is an essential mineral and does have a rightful place in a balanced diet—but we need way less sodium than most of us consume in a day.
Taking a look at the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for nutrients can help you figure out whether you're going overboard, or if there's some wiggle room in your eating habits. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The American Heart Association agrees, but says that 1,500 milligrams or less per day is even more ideal.
To put this into perspective, a 1-ounce bag of potato chips has approximately 150 milligrams of sodium, according to the USDA. In comparison, a tablespoon of peanut butter has about 69 milligrams of sodium, per the USDA.
So, how does reality compare to these official nutritional recommendations? The CDC estimates that Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, which is more than 1,000 milligrams over the recommended amount. If you're reaching for salty snacks on the regular, you may find yourself giving in to your salty desires more than your body really needs.
Why You Crave Salt
Most of the explanations for salt cravings are related to your environment or lifestyle, so if you feel like you can't control yourself around salty goodies, just know that you can do something about it.
How to Lower Your Salt Intake and Curb Cravings
The obvious reason why we crave salty foods so much is because they taste so darn good . The key to keeping salty food cravings in check is training your taste buds to enjoy the taste of foods without as much added salt.
"Reducing salt is a gradual process, and it often takes time for our taste buds to change," Cartlidge says. "As you slowly decrease your salt intake, your taste buds won't be as tolerant to the overall taste of it, and you may find that your cravings for it lessen over time."
Instead of processed, prepared convenience foods, which are typically loaded with added salt for flavor and preservation (frozen burritos, microwave hash browns, precooked sausages), try to recreate these goodies at home. You'll find that it's not the salt shaker that's to blame—it's all the added salt in packaged foods.
When you're in a time crunch and have to reach for packaged foods, Cartlidge recommends getting familiar with reading nutrition labels and going for ones that read "reduced sodium" or "no salt added." Specifically, look for labels that have 5 percent or less daily value of sodium per serving.
Remember that salt isn't the only way to make your food taste good. You can flavor snacks and dishes with an infinite combination of herbs, spices, seasonings, and lemon juice. You can even opt for salt-free seasoning blends to help control how much you end up using.
Making high-sodium foods a staple in your diet can have health consequences like high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of heart disease, according to the FDA. But as long as you enjoy it in moderation, indulging in your favorite salty bites every now and then is perfectly fine!