Whether they’re eaten in flavored chips, on a burger or straight out of the jar, we love a juicy pickle. Heck, we’ll even give pickle soft serve and pickle vodka a try. And while we’re never ones to turn down a crunchy spear, sometimes we start craving them real bad. When this super-specific (but so dill-icious) hankering strikes, is it our body’s way of trying to tell us something? Maybe. If you’re anything like us and find yourself craving pickles on the reg, it might be because you’re dehydrated. Allow us to explain.
Pickles are high in sodium (salt is added to the brine in order to preserve them—and make them extra tasty, of course). And sodium is an important electrolyte. These minerals help to keep your body hydrated. So when you’re craving something salty, it could be because your body is in need of a hydration boost.
But that might not be the only thing going on. “Research shows that salt, just like sugar, can be addictive and hit the areas of the brain that put out signals for cravings,” registered dietician Amy Shapiro of Real Nutrition tells us. “And because you can build up a tolerance to salt, the more you eat, the more you want.” This might explain why you find it hard to stop at just one pickle (or why your favorite way to eat them is in a meat-packed Cuban sandwich).
But what if you crave salty foods all the time? “If the cravings become constant, it’s always important to discuss this with your doctor,” registered dietician nutritionist Lee Cotton tells us. “Research indicates that craving salt could be a symptom of a health condition such as adrenal insufficiency or Bartter’s syndrome. It also could be a sign of dehydration or PMS,” she adds. Avoid self-diagnosis and speak with your physician about any changes in appetite or tastes, Lee advises.
What about the cliché of pregnant women housing a jar of pickles at 3 a.m.? According to Shapiro, many pregnant women crave pickles as a response to morning sickness, which can cause—you guessed it—dehydration. And while you may have heard that increased blood volume increases a pregnant woman's need for sodium (hence those midnight cravings for pickles, fries and chips), there is little evidence to support this theory. What we do know is that there’s a cultural link to pregnancy cravings. A study of over 200 expecting women in Tanzania found that the most common cravings among them were meat, mangoes and yogurt. Meanwhile, in the United States, the most common pregnancy cravings include chocolate, fast food, pickles and ice cream. What gives? Well, if you’ve always heard that pregnant women crave pickles then you’re likely predisposed to having the same craving yourself when expecting.
Lucky for us, there’s nothing wrong with indulging in your hankering for a pickle. In fact, per Shapiro, “pickles are full of vitamins and minerals. Many are fermented so they help with digestion and gut health as well.”
But if you’re trying to beat your pickle addiction, we’ve got plenty of suggestions. To satisfy your craving for something salty with just the right amount of bite, try a few olives or some “healthy” chips instead (we like these roasted veggie ones). You could also snack on a handful of popcorn or edamame. Or you know, just surrender to your craving and eat a damn pickle. Here are our picks for the best dill pickles at the grocery store. Or why not try to make your own homemade pickles?