A person may crave salt — or salty foods such as chips, popcorn, or fries — due to boredom or stress. However, salt cravings can also indicate a sodium deficiency or a medical condition, such as Addison’s disease.

Many people in the United States consume more than the daily recommendation for salt, but salt cravings are still a common experience.

Some people believe that a food craving indicates that the body is deficient in something. However, people may crave foods that offer little to no nutrition.

Salt cravings can be due to factors such as boredom, stress, or a medical condition. This article lists eight potential causes for salt cravings.

People with salt cravings eating burgers and chips in a restaurant.-1Share on Pinterest
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When stress levels rise, people may crave their favorite foods for comfort. This may include craving foods high in fat, sugar, or salt — also known as sodium.

Eating such foods may trigger the body’s reward system and reduce its stress response to relieve symptoms of stress. Salty foods may also offer a pleasurable distraction from stress.

A 2017 study found a link between stress and higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which increases hunger. The results of the study suggest that ghrelin may increase food cravings and lead to weight gain.

People who do not get enough sleep may crave snacks with high “satisfaction levels,” such as salty, crunchy foods.

A 2019 study associated poor sleep — in terms of quality and quantity — with more frequent food cravings and poorer dietary quality.

Lack of sleep can occur due to other health problems, so people with inadequate rest may wish to discuss it with their doctor. A healthcare professional can make a diagnosis and potential treatment plan, which may help with cravings.

Eating due to boredom is an emotional eating behavior similar to stress eating.

To determine whether a salt craving is due to boredom or hunger, it is helpful to look for the body’s hunger cues. True hunger occurs when a person’s body needs food. If a person has not eaten for several hours, they may have true hunger.

Other signs of hunger include:

  • noisy stomach grumbling
  • wanting to eat almost any food, not a specific one
  • a desire to eat that gets stronger over time

These signs indicate it may be time to eat a meal or snack. However, since most Americans already eat too much salt, it may be better to avoid processed, salty options.

Instead, a person can look for something with natural crunch and flavor, such as raw fruits or vegetables. These choices can keep the salt intake to a minimum while calming the desire for crunchy, satisfying foods.

Sweat contains salt, so when people sweat, their sodium levels decrease.

For most people, light sweating is nothing to worry about. Sodium levels do not drop significantly with day to day sweating, and drinking water may be enough to keep people hydrated after a workout.

A 2022 review highlights research suggesting salt replacement may be necessary after exercising for longer than two hours or in a hot climate.

Sodium intake after exercise should equal the amount of sodium lost in sweat during exercise.

However, the review highlights the importance of individualized hydration strategies since water needs can vary depending on a person’s characteristics and exercise intensity.

Sports drinks typically contain electrolytes, so can help to replace sodium and other electrolytes a person loses through sweat.

People may experience a variety of physical and emotional changes in the days before their period. These changes are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Changes in appetite, including cravings for certain foods, are a common symptom. These cravings may be related to hormonal fluctuations in different phases of a person’s cycle.

People who experience PMS-related cravings may wish to try the following:

  • Calcium: A 2020 systematic review suggests calcium supplementation may help to improve PMS-related symptoms. However, the authors note that more research is necessary.
  • Acupuncture: A 2018 review suggests acupuncture may benefit physical and psychological PMS symptoms. However, further research is necessary.
  • Vitex (chasteberry): This herb may improve some PMS symptoms. However, more research is also necessary to understand this potential treatment.
  • Oral contraceptives: A 2021 meta-analysis suggests that the combined birth control pill may help to relieve some PMS symptoms.

People experiencing PMS can speak with a healthcare professional if they want help managing their symptoms.

Addison’s disease, or adrenal insufficiency, occurs when the adrenal glands do not make enough hormones. It can occur due to autoimmune conditions, infections, and other causes.

These hormones control the body’s response to stress and regulate blood pressure. As a result, Addison’s disease can cause very low blood pressure and may cause cravings for salt.

People with Addison’s disease may also experience:

Addison’s disease requires medical care to replace the hormones that the adrenal glands are not making.

In severe cases, a person may go into adrenal crisis. This happens when levels of cortisol in the body drop to dangerous levels. Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency.

Bartter syndrome is a genetic condition that is present at birth. People with Bartter syndrome cannot reabsorb sodium in their kidneys. As a result, they lose too much sodium in their urine, which leads to a loss of potassium and calcium as well.

Due to low sodium levels, people with Bartter syndrome may crave salt. Symptoms vary from one person to another, but affected people may also experience:

Healthcare professionals usually diagnose this through urine and blood tests during infancy or childhood. Affected people may require certain supplements, including potassium, salt, and magnesium to manage the condition.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary condition that affects the lungs and digestive system. The condition can be life threatening. People born with CF tend to have a shorter life expectancy than typical, but this expectancy is increasing with medical advances.

CF increases the amount of salt a person loses through sweat. It causes the production of a thick, sticky mucus that can clog the lungs and obstruct the pancreas.

Due to the balance of salt in the body being disturbed, people with CF may crave salt. Other symptoms include:

A CF diagnosis usually occurs during infancy or childhood through urine and blood tests. Treatment may depend on a person’s symptoms and may include medications, breathing support, or surgery.

In many cases, salt cravings are simply food cravings due to stress, fatigue, boredom, or PMS. However, ongoing salt cravings can be an indication of certain medical conditions.

The American Heart Association recommends that most adults do not consume more than 2,300 milligrams daily.

If a person meets this daily recommendation and continues craving salt, they can speak with a doctor. They may also benefit from speaking with a doctor if they have concerns about kidney or adrenal problems.

Various things can cause a craving for salt, including stress, boredom, or certain underlying health conditions.

A person craving salt may benefit from trying to identify hunger cues. They can swap salty snacks for alternatives, such as fresh fruit or vegetables, that may satisfy cravings without increasing a person’s sodium intake above recommendations.

If salt cravings persist, people may benefit from speaking with a healthcare professional to check for any underlying causes.