New research suggests that the commonly-held belief that consuming large amounts of salt in one’s diet leads to weight gain may not actually be true. A recently-published study by German scientists reached conclusions that contradicted common conceptions of salt’s effects on the body.
Less Thirsty, But Hungrier
Researchers discovered that people who ate higher amounts of salt were actually less thirsty than previously thought, although they were also hungrier. And in studies performed on mice, the more salt consumed by the mice, the more calories they burned. Mice fed a high-salt diet plus a saline solution ate 20 to 30 percent more food than mice on a low-salt diet, but maintained the same body weight. And when mice on both high-salt-saline and low-salt diets were fed the same amount of food, the mice on the high-salt-saline diet lost 10% of their body weight within one week.
Mice Lose Weight, But Will People Lose Weight Too?
You might think that these results would transfer to people too. The caveat is that mice, as the researchers point out, are an imperfect model for studying effects in human beings. The water and food intake of the mice, when calculated against their body mass, would correspond to almost 5 gallons of water and 25 pounds of food per day for a 175-pound person. Obviously, further studies designed for human subjects will be needed to establish whether these same effects will be seen in people. Still, the results are intriguing and may very well lead to research that could overturn dietary recommendations that limit salt intake.
What Do We Really Know About Salt?
Salt, or more specifically, the sodium chloride that we use as table salt, plays very important functions in the body. The sodium ions created by the breakdown of sodium chloride in the body help balance water and electrolytes within the body and are an important mineral in activating nerves and muscles. Too little sodium can be dangerous. If sodium levels in the body drop quickly, it can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and comas. Too much sodium can have the same effect, which is why dietary recommendations have long suggested minimizing salt intake in order to keep blood sodium levels within the recommended range.
What this study seems to indicate is that excess sodium intake does not lead to weight gain, in fact just the opposite. In people, high salt intake generally comes from junk food: potato chips, snack food, and fast food. If further studies conclude that it’s the junk food that causes the weight gain, not the salt in them, then dietary recommendations to limit salt intake may very well go by the wayside. So if you’re feeling confident in the results of this study, go ahead and put a little salt on that T-bone steak. Don’t be afraid to shake a little salt onto your broccoli or kale. It just might be good for you.