It doesn’t matter how much of a health nut you are, everybody gets food cravings. While they can be detrimental to a healthy diet if they overtake you to the point of overeating, you shouldn’t fear them. “Cravings aren’t bad,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., Chicago-based dietitian and author of The Superfood Swap. “They’re a cue to slow down and figure out what your body is telling you.”  

Why do you get food cravings? 

Cravings generally originate from one of three places, Blatner says. First, there are physical cravings, stemming from skipping meals, going too long between meals or not eating balance meals. As a result, you’re physically hungry, which means you look for quick energy sources like sweet or salty carbs.

If, though, you’re feeling tense (think stressed, overwhelmed or anxious) or tired (cue the boredom, loneliness or sadness), your craving might be stemming from an emotional need, what’s often called emotional hunger. “When you’re feeling one of these emotions, you might be trying to eat to ignore it,” Blatner says. 

That’s especially true when you’re stressed, namely because your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can act as an appetite stimulant. Not only does that make you want to eat more, it also makes you crave specific foods, usually sweet ones for an obvious reason. “Sugar triggers the release of another hormone called dopamine that makes you feel good,” says Amanda Holtzer, M.S., R.D., dietitian with Culina Health in Seacaucus, N.J.   

Third reason that could drive you to crave food? You’re getting cues from your surroundings, making that craving environmental in nature. Maybe you’re scrolling through social media or passing a place on your way home work, and you see food and suddenly want to eat, Blatner says. 

How do you know if your craving is emotional or physical in nature? Check what you’re craving. “If you’re craving something specific and you feel that you’ll never be satisfied until you have that one thing, it’s likely an emotional craving,” Holtzer says. Meanwhile, with a physical craving, you’re most likely open to a selection of foods.  

How to stop and prevent food cravings

Surprisingly, you can stop a food craving when it’s happening. Although this advice will sound counterintuitive, eat the food you’re craving. Otherwise, if you try to satisfy that craving with a healthier food option, you risk overeating even that food, Holtzer says.

You can also work to prevent cravings by making sure you don’t go longer than four hours without eating, which will keep your blood sugar stable, Holtzer says. For plant-based eaters in particular, check that you’re getting enough protein at meals and snacks to feel physically full, Blatner says. And of course, find non-food ways to aid feelings of tension and tiredness. 

Certain foods may even help keep cravings at bay. Here’s what our experts suggest.

What to eat and drink to crush salt cravings

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1. Drink water

This obviously isn’t a food per se, but staying hydrated can help prevent salty cravings, especially if you’re an avid exerciser. “Excess exercise or sweating may trigger a salty craving, given that you’re sweating out more electrolytes like salt than the average individual,” Holtzer says. On the flip side, not drinking enough water could cause salty cravings, as it’s your body’s way of trying to regulate its sodium levels. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water each day.  

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2. Eat watermelon

You can also curb cravings by eating water-rich foods like watermelon to hydrate. Other hydrating foods include tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, berries and salad greens, Holtzer says.

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3. Snack on salted pistachios

Trolling for chips? That same craving can be satisfied with nuts. Pistachios contain protein, healthy fat, and fiber to help give you more physical satisfaction, Blatner says. They’re also savory as well as salty to help fulfill that craving. Not a fan of pistachios? Try salted roasted garbanzo beans, salted edamame or olives.  

The 4 Best Foods to Crush Sweet Cravings

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1. Nice cream

Cue the frozen bananas. If you’ve never had nice cream, now’s the time to try it, Blatner says. This dairy- and sugar-free treat comes with some nutritional benefits. Learn how to make it in this guide from Forks Over Knives. 

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2. Whole fruit

Fruit is naturally sweet so instead of reaching for a vegan candy bar or ice cream, knock those sugary cravings back with fruits like strawberries and pineapple, Blatner says. 

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3. Black beans

One way to tame your sweet tooth is by eating more plant-based protein at your meals, Holtzer says. While black beans certainly fit that bill, so, too, do chickpeas, quinoa, tofu, tempeh and edamame.  

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4. Artichokes

Artichokes are classified as a non-starchy vegetable, and there’s good reason to make sure you’re eating them at every meal. “They add tons of fiber, which helps slow digestion, keep you full longer, and balance blood sugar,” Holtzer says. Other non-starchy veggies include asparagus, beets, broccoli, sugar snap peas, and turnips. Aim for two cups at each meal. 

You may not be able to eradicate cravings completely, but with these strategies and foods on your side, keeping them under control will be easier. 

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