Healthy Snack Ideas to Satisfy a Salt Craving
Odds are, too much of your sodium intake comes from packaged snacks. See how opting for homemade — like the 16 recipes included here — can help keep you healthy.
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My grandmother had her first heart attack before she turned 50. Throughout my childhood, she was on a strict, low-sodium diet (sodium is linked to high blood pressure, which increases your odds of heart attack and stroke). The diet definitely helped, since she lived another 26 years. But my mom, who happened to be a nurse, understood that her mother’s heart disease increased her own risk. With our doctor in agreement, she basically put the whole family on a low-sodium regimen. I’m pretty sure we didn’t own a salt shaker — there definitely wasn’t one on the table. Lemme tellya, that was some bland food.
Scientists know a lot more about sodium’s role in our health than they used to. These days, only people who have high blood pressure or heart failure are asked to go on a diet as strict as my family’s. After all, the mineral does offer some health benefits, helping our bodies function normally. Eating too much is the real problem. That can lead to high blood pressure, which contributes to nearly 500,000 deaths each year.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. A whopping 90% of Americans over age 2 take in more than that. But it turns out, it’s not really about the salt we put on food at home. That accounts for a relatively small portion of the average person’s sodium intake. Instead, the majority — 70% — comes from processed and restaurant foods.
I understand why manufacturers use it. All that salt helps with flavor, of course, but it also acts as a preservative, helps retain moisture in food, and even makes it look nicer. But here’s the mind-boggling part: More than 40% of the average person's sodium intake comes from just 10 types of food!
Some of those 10 salty foods, like bread or chicken, surprised me. But here’s one that didn’t: “savory snacks,” things like chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack mixes, and crackers. To me, that presents a giant opportunity, an easy way to begin to bring your sodium consumption within the recommended limits: Skip the store-bought and add homemade salty snacks to your diet, ones made with more modest amounts of added sodium.
Healthy salty snack ideas
I try to eat healthy more often than not. If I make the rookie mistake of shopping on an empty stomach, I may succumb to a snazzy package (damn you, kettle chips), but most of the time, I’ve got some homemade alternatives on hand. Like these.
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Snacks by the handful
Sometimes, my yearning for salty snacks can’t be satisfied unless I eat a lot of little items (think popping salted peanuts with a cocktail). A small bowl of any of the following would definitely do the trick.
My husband is a sucker for salt-and-vinegar chips. Swapping in a thawed bag of frozen, shelled edamame gives him the same mouth-puckery effect, but with a hearty helping of protein and fiber and very little fat.
I love the crunch of a pretzel as much as the next person, but they can get a little boring. This recipe keeps them endlessly interesting with plenty of spice-rack-staple seasonings — and just a little oil to help the mixture adhere. I recommend starting with unsalted pretzels.
Air-popped popcorn is a terrific snack — it’s full of fiber, it’s a whole grain, and it’s easy to take with you. But it kinda tastes like Styrofoam, doesn’t it? No problem like that here, since you’re adding tons of flavor with a little oil, curry powder, cashews, and other good-for-you ingredients.
Remember how I said sometimes I like to eat a lot of little items? This recipe knocks that concept out of the park — you’re roasting spiced-up lentils, those itty-bitty legumes, until they get nice and crunchy. The instructions include steps for cooking your own lentils first or saving time and using canned lentils.
Healthy chip alternatives
Whether you’re looking for a vehicle for dip (made with healthy fats, of course) or you just need a crunchy snack, it’s hard to beat chips to satisfy salty cravings. Any of these would be a dramatically better option than a bag from the grocery store.
Baking your own chips from whole grain corn tortillas takes very little effort — just brush some tortillas with oil, sprinkle with salt, cut into wedges, and pop them into the oven. I like these chips with nothing but salsa, but they also make some pretty mean nachos.
Everyone’s favorite healthy-cooking appliance produces one of my top healthy salty snacks. Definitely use a mandoline to make sure you get the thinnest potato slices possible — they’ll crisp up faster and shatter in your mouth in the most satisfying way.
Here’s an old-school trick for healthy homemade chips, from before air fryers were even a thing: Microwave them! It’s shockingly easy, and although this recipe calls for sweet potatoes, you can use any non-waxy potato (like russet or Yukon gold).
Low-carb and naturally gluten-free, a chip made of nothing but Parmesan cheese is the ultimate in savory snacks. And it’s so easy! Just make piles of shredded cheese on a cookie sheet and bake for a few minutes. Add a little everything-bagel seasoning if you like, y’know, for extra zip.
Protein power snacks
I like to include some protein in my snacks — it helps me feel full longer, so I don’t have to stop and scrounge for more food. Each of these recipes is protein-forward and includes enough salty foods to sate that craving.
If you have yet to taste the crispy wonder that is roasted chickpeas, well, I’m super-excited for you. Here, the recipe goes beyond simple garbanzos. Once they’re roasted, you toss them with olive oil, sea salt, spices, and nuts for a protein- and fiber-packed snack — I like the combo of cashews and pumpkin seeds.
I’m telling it to you straight: This recipe takes a while — plan on the better part of a day, maybe a weekend. But you get at least 20 servings of deliciously chewy jerky, and it stays good for a whole month. Thin strips of lean flank steak marinate in reduced-sodium soy sauce, Worcestershire, and other seasonings, then spend a good long time in either a dehydrator or a low oven.
This idea is so clever, I can hardly stand it. You spend 15-20 minutes dividing deli turkey, hard-boiled eggs, cubes of cheese, nuts, crackers, and cherry tomatoes into containers, then pop them all in the fridge. Next time a hankering for something salty strikes, you’re ready to go. Just grab one. (I should point out that three of those items — deli turkey, cheese, and store-bought crackers — are on that top-10 sodium source list I mentioned. But you’re eating relatively little of each, so the sodium level of the complete snack is a respectable 270 mg.)
Don’t tell anyone I told you, but “turkey power snack” is just a fun way to say, “Keep zingy, Asian-accented turkey meatballs in the fridge, so you can grab a couple whenever the urge strikes.” Each meatball has a generous 4 g of protein!
Vegetables are naturally low in sodium so they aren’t salty per se, but they add tons of fresh flavor (not to mention all those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) to snack recipes like these.
I could eat pickles with every meal and be perfectly happy. The rest of my family? Can’t stand them. Which only means more for me, of course. When they’re this easy to make from scratch, there’s no excuse not to keep this low-calorie snack on hand at all times. Note that pickles, whether homemade or store-bought, often have tons of salt and more than a little added sugar. This recipe, on the other hand, would work for even my grandmother’s diet.
Look at that color, would you? Beets add just the right hint of earthy sweetness to this savory snack. All you need is some pita or vegetable sticks, maybe kale chips, to transport that gorgeous dip to your mouth.
Crunchy from breadcrumbs, salty from Parmesan, with the light vegetal flavor of zucchini — these chips hit every note I’m looking for in a snack. Yes, they take a little bit of work, but you’ll still be munching in less than half an hour.
Are these not adorable? A simple round cookie cutter (or even a glass) turns whole wheat tortillas into bite-sized beauties filled with hummus, avocado, and queso fresco. Cutting the tortillas takes almost no time, but it makes quesadillas a hundred times more fun to eat.
More healthy bites ahead
When the cravings show up, explore these healthy alternatives.