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Here's Why You're Always Craving Salt—Plus What To Do About It

Ever wonder why you seem to crave savory, salty foods? A dietitian explains why this may be the case.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

Sodium and chloride are two essential electrolytes that combine to make up table salt. Electrolytes are responsible for conducting electrical charges within the body, which lead to muscle contractions. These nutrients also play important roles in fluid balance, blood pH and pressure, and nerve function.

While salt gets a bad reputation for being an unhealthy ingredient, it is in fact one we need to consume on a daily basis. If you notice you are craving salt, there may be a good reason. This could be your body's way of telling you it is depleted of the nutrients in salt, or it could simply be related to your eating habits or hormones.

Read on to learn 5 reasons why you might be craving salt—and for more tips on how to best manage certain cravings, be sure to also read 11 Ways To Stop Carb Cravings Before They Start.

You're dehydrated

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Because sodium and chloride are essential in fluid balance within the body, dehydration may cause you to crave more salt. This is your body's way of getting you to eat or drink more sodium and chloride that can aid in improving your hydration status. Along with eating more salt, you may also crave more water which would further improve your hydration. When you are dehydrated you may notice a few more symptoms in addition to craving salt. Headache, decreased urination, lethargy, and feeling thirsty or some of the common symptoms one may notice when dehydrated.

To reduce your risk of dehydration, ensure you are drinking liquids through the day and aim to have urine that is pale yellow to clear to in color. This is one of the easiest indicators of hydration. Additionally, if you are active and/or spending time in a hot and humid climate, you may want to increase your intake of salt along with fluids to offset dehydration. These simple steps may reduce your chances of becoming dehydrated and craving salt.

You're having premenstrual syndrome

Also known as PMS, premenstrual syndrome can occur the few days before a woman starts her period. This condition is known for causing a wide range of symptoms. While some may notice more emotional symptoms, like mood swings, irritability, and a depressed mood, others may notice a change in their appetite and food cravings. These food cravings could be any number of food items, including salty foods. There is not a well-established theory as to why women notice more food cravings with PMS, although fluctuating hormones are thought to play a role.

If you notice you crave chips and popcorn the week before your period, it is ok to indulge. Try to stick to the portion size listed on the package, drink plenty of fluid, and choose salty foods that have more nutritional benefit. Air popped popcorn, salted nuts, and whole grain crackers are examples of salty snacks with more nutritional value.

You're under stress

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Another condition in which hormones are involved, stress could be a reason why you are craving salt. The main hormone involved in helping your body cope with stress is called cortisol. This hormone is released from your adrenal glands in response to stress and alters non-essentials bodily functions, blood pressure, heart rate, and even glucose usage to aid the body. One study from the Journal of Neuroscience suggests individuals with higher blood sodium levels, also known as hypernatremia, release less cortisol when experiencing stress. This may explain why you crave salt during stressful periods, as consuming higher amounts of salt could be one way your body physiologically manages stress.

Similar to PMS salt cravings, stick to one serving, per the package nutrition facts, and choose more nutritious salty items that can benefit your body as a whole.

You're having an electrolyte imbalance

Anything that may cause higher than usual fluid loss, like what you may experience during exercise, time in hot and humid climates, or with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea could lead to an electrolyte balance. Along with the bodily fluid loss you may experience in these states, you are also losing valuable electrolytes, like sodium. Dehydration is one side effect of these factors, but your electrolytes can become imbalanced, too. While craving salt may be one symptom you notice related to this imbalance, you may notice additional symptoms, like headache, fatigue, fast heart rate, or muscle cramps or spasms.

To avoid the salt cravings and other symptoms you may notice with an electrolyte imbalance, ensure you are consuming electrolytes along with your fluids, especially during periods of excessive fluid loss. This can be done with electrolyte drinks or increased salty food intake along with your fluids.

You're pregnant

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Two of the most common symptoms experienced by expecting mothers are nausea and vomiting. While nausea itself may not lead to a salt craving, vomiting could. Because vomiting leads to excessive fluid loss, it will also increase the number of electrolytes you lose, too. If you experience an increase in salt cravings during pregnancy and have also dealt with periods of vomiting, your body could be telling you it needs more electrolytes to maintain proper balance. Because a pregnant woman is also supporting the fluid and nutrient needs of her unborn child, fluid and electrolyte balance is especially important. This fluid an electrolyte balance is important while breastfeeding, too.

All pregnant women should consult with their physician if they are experiencing persistent vomiting, and ensure they are drinking adequate fluid along with electrolytes. Electrolyte drinks make be especially helpful for managing these important factors during periods when food isn't well tolerated.

Kelsey Hampton, MS, CSSD, RDN, LD
Kelsey is a Texas-based dietitian and professor who specializes in sports nutrition. Read more about Kelsey