Leave doubts behind and find out how salty foods can really affect your body weight and health.
If you’ve ever been on a diet, surely the first thing you do is limit salt in your food. But why is it that a food that contains no calories can increase your weight?
Some people even make the mistake of eliminating salt altogether, not knowing that it is part of vital bodily functions such as muscle contraction and electrolyte balance. That makes you wonder: how much salt is too much salt?
Because of these doubts and misinterpretations, it is important to understand the role of salt in your body and to know how weight gain happens.
Does Salt Make You Gain Weight?
No, salt by itself does not make you gain weight.
However, it is strongly associated with weight gain because generally salty foods are also high in calories. What causes weight gain is exceeding your caloric requirement through high-calorie intake.
Processed foods have large amounts of salt to preserve them for longer periods of time. In addition, they often contain other preservatives that promote palatability (that amazing taste that keeps you coming back for more and triggers cravings).
This combination of ingredients can encourage mass consumption of these products, resulting in an increased calorie intake and leading to weight gain.
In addition, some studies on salt and insulin resistance have given signals about the relationship of sodium intake with the carbohydrates metabolism.
Salt and Water Retention
The main component of salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), which is an essential electrolyte that has the capacity to retain water.
This happens to maintain the hydro-electrolyte balance, which ensures that bodily functions are carried out smoothly. If, on the other hand, there is less sodium intake, the body excretes water until it finds the right balance.
This is one of the reasons why high salt intake is associated with weight gain, since as the amount of water goes up, the weight on the scale also increases.
It should be noted that this weight gain does not depend on body fat. And, the weight that fluctuates due to water retention is temporary.
How Long Does Sodium Weight Gain Last
The duration of sodium weight gain depends on several factors such as the amount of sodium consumed, physical activity level and the amount of water you drink during the day.
It may take a couple of days or several weeks to lose the pounds of fluid gained, but to speed up the process you can take some measures such as:
- Do moderate cardiovascular exercise to promote sweating.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent fluid retention and promote excretion of water through urine.
- Follow the American Heart Association recommendation and limit salt intake to 2300 mg per day for healthy adults.
- Choose low-sodium weight loss foods such as berries, oranges and green vegetables.
- Limit carbohydrate intake to speed up fluid loss as carbohydrates retain water.
Common Myths and Misconceptions About Salt and Weight
One of the main misconceptions regarding sodium intake arises because of its association with heart disease.
Certainly, a high-sodium diet may increase the risk of cardiovascular events.
This is because, the more sodium comes in, the more water is retained. Consequently, the volume of blood in the blood vessels increases and the heart has to pump harder.
To avoid cardiovascular disease, people have mistakenly opted to eliminate sodium completely, thus the second mistake: believing that sodium is only found in table salt.
Did you know that foods naturally contain sodium? Because of this, you will never be 100% sodium-free. For example, 4 oz of chicken breast naturally contains 75 mg of sodium. This means that there is no such thing as a sodium-free diet.
On the other hand, the amount of added sodium in pre-packaged products is often underestimated and tends to be abused.
It is important to understand that sodium intake is necessary for essential functions in the body, such as the transmission of nerve signals, maintaining the balance of body fluids and helping muscle contraction. Its consumption should not be abused, but neither can salt be completely eliminated.
How to Cut Back on Added Salt
An optimal diet, not only for weight loss but also for health, should contain all macronutrients, micronutrients and electrolytes. Among the latter are potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium.
An imbalance of electrolytes, including sodium, puts overall health at risk, therefore you have to consume only what is necessary.
To achieve a lower sodium intake, you can follow some recommendations:
- Avoid highly processed foods such as deep-frozen and microwave-ready foods as these are options that tend to be high in salt.
- Choose fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, and lean meats and use little salt when cooking them.
- Avoid deli meats and salty cheeses and choose low-fat cheeses with less salt if you want to lose weight.
- You can include Himalayan pink salt in your diet as it contains more minerals than table salt and can promote weight loss.
- Keep powdered spices in your pantry to flavor foods such as oregano, pepper, cumin, paprika, thyme, among others.
- Read nutritional labels. Remember that the daily recommendation is 2300 mg for healthy people and 1500 mg for people with cardiovascular risk.
Health Implications of Excessive Salt Consumption
When there is a high salt intake, the body will try to compensate by retaining more fluid to decrease its concentration. This means that your heart will have to mobilize more fluid, increasing cardiac output and causing high blood pressure.
Cardiac output is the amount of blood that the heart is able to pump throughout the body to supply the organs. With a greater amount of fluid retained, the heart muscle must increase its contractions to meet the demand.
The heart may eventually lose this capacity, giving way to cardiovascular disease and the “stagnation” of fluids that cannot be mobilized, known as edema.
Moreover, the cardiovascular system is not the only one that suffers the consequences of a high-salt diet.
The kidneys also increase their workload, the excessive filtration of fluids and high sodium intake can damage the glomeruli where this occurs. In addition, salt is directly related to inflammation and renal fibrosis.
In the long term, high blood pressure and renal overload can lead to the development of chronic renal failure due to excess sodium, causing the kidneys to fail to perform their function properly leading to life-threatening complications.
Reading a product label can be tricky, since you must know your nutritional requirement to understand the numbers.
When it comes to salt, 300 mg of sodium in a product may be a moderate amount in relation to your daily dose if you’re a healthy person. But, if you’re looking to reduce your intake, 300 mg of sodium per serving may be too much for you.
To avoid going over your requirement, buy products with a low percent daily value (%DV). For example, the %DV of a product with 300 mg of sodium is 13%.
You can monitor the amount of salt you consume by taking notes to keep track of what you eat and consult with your nutritionist to help you identify the right foods for your diet.
2300 mg of sodium are recommended for healthy people and 1500 mg for people diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases.
Yes, they are different, however, their sodium content is the same. The difference is that sea salt has a higher mineral content which makes it healthier.
No, salt does not contain calories because it is a food that does not provide energy.
Weight gain from salt intake is due to fluid retention known as “water weight” which is not body fat, making you look bloated.
No, salt intake by itself does not cause an increased belly fat. However, its excessive consumption through processed foods may favor fat gain due to other altered metabolic mechanisms.
Salt intake can promote weight gain by different mechanisms that affect metabolism, appetite control and fluid retention.
Fluid retention is transitory, so the number on the scale may fluctuate every day.
The loss of weight gained due to high-salt diet intake can be achieved in a few days by controlling salt in the diet, reducing processed foods and increasing physical activity.
It is not recommended to eliminate salt from the diet as it is necessary for many body functions. It is recommended to consume it in moderation within a balanced diet.