We all need salt. Sodium is essential for keeping the balance of fluids in our bodies right, helping our muscles contract and our nerves sending messages to our brains, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The mineral is a component of a wide variety of foods. Due to salt cravings, most of us get more sodium than our bodies require in our daily diets. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the federal government recommend that we limit our sodium intake to about 2,300 milligrams per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt.

If you consume too much sodium, you increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the FDA. Excess sodium causes our bodies to retain extra fluids, which may show up as temporary unwanted pounds. Even worse, Vanderbilt University Medical Center reports that too much salt in our diets causes us to drink less water and stimulates our appetites, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. High salt intake is also associated with an increased risk of obesity, according to researchers who reported their findings in the medical journal, Hypertension.

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Still, sometimes we feel like we really, really need the flavor of salt. The trouble is, many of the choices we make to satisfy our salt cravings load us up with more than just sodium, derailing our weight loss efforts. Salty foods such as chips, pretzels and crackers typically contain simple carbohydrates that are high in calories and low in nutrients and fiber.

That doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your salt cravings and stick to your healthy eating plan. The Nutrisystem snack menu offers you a wide range of healthy options that provide balanced nutrition. You can also try these other simple and nutritious ideas:

Veggie Chips

kale chips

The craving for a salty snack is often more about the urge to crunch than a desire for sodium. That’s a good time to reach for chips made from kale, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. Along with the crispy texture, you get vitamins, minerals and fiber. Add all the pepper and spices you’d like and go light on (or without) the added salt. To be sure you keep the salt content low and the nutrition high, use our recipes on The Leaf! We love kale chips but also recommend these six recipes that make ridiculously delicious veggie chips >

Nuts

salt cravings

Peanuts, almonds, cashews and other nuts come in a variety of forms and flavors, including raw or dry-roasted. Munching on them can satisfy a craving for savory flavor, even when you choose the unsalted types. Nuts are also high in protein, which makes them a perfect PowerFuel.

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Hummus

salt cravings

Do you love to dip when you’re hankering for savory flavor? Hummus, a creamy dip made from chickpeas and spices, is a tasty way to perk up raw vegetables such as carrots and peppers. You get both crunch and flavor in each bite. Best of all, humus is loaded with protein, low in carbs and has just 70 mg of sodium in 2 tablespoons, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Make this Spicy White Bean Hummus >

Pickles

salt cravings

Vinegar can satisfy some of the same taste buds that sodium does. However, it’s a Free Food in your Nutrisystem weight-loss plan because it’s almost calorie-free. When cucumbers or other vegetables are preserved with vinegar and made into pickles, they can hit that savory spot without unwanted carbs. Try to choose reduced sodium varieties and enjoy pickled veggies as an Extra on your Nutrisystem plan.

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Herbs and Spices

salt cravings

Instead of reaching for the salt shaker when you want to pump up the flavor of your food, sprinkle on the spices. Hot pepper flakes, garlic, black pepper, oregano and many other seasonings can make any dish savory without adding one milligram of sodium. They’re all Free Foods, so you can use as much of them as you want. Try these five zero-calorie ways to add flavor to your food >

Hot Sauce

salt cravings

Zesty flavors can chase away your craving for salt without adding extra sodium to your diet. If you like food that gets your tongue tingling, add a few drops (or more, if you dare) of hot sauce to any dish. It’s another Free Food that you can use to your heart’s—and taste bud’s—content.

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