When deciding to take on a healthier lifestyle and to trim down, one of the first pieces of advice that people often start to give you is to “cut down on the salt.” While many studies support the fact that most people are consuming much more salt than the daily recommended amount, does salt – which contains no calories – actually contribute to weight gain? And will cutting back on the amount of salt you eat help you lose weight?
Is Salt At Fault for Weight Gain?
Sodium, a component of table salt (which is sodium chloride), is a mineral found naturally in most foods. Everyone needs some sodium in their diet; in fact, salt could do everyone a bit of good, as your body requires both sodium and chloride and cannot manufacture either of these elements on its own. Sodium is an important electrolyte that carries electrical messages throughout your body, and it also helps to regulate blood volume and blood pressure by maintaining a good water balance between the inside and outside of your cells. This is one of the reasons why humans are attracted to salty foods and why we have a taste bud specifically wired for it, forming one of the basic components of taste.
But these healthy functions all hinge upon our body’s ability to maintain a proper balance between sodium, potassium and other elements in our body. The “sodium” problem arises because most people actually wind up consuming much more than their bodies actually need. In the same way foods are preserved with salt in order to dry them out, the same thing happens to your cells when you eat too much sodium, drawing out too much water from them and leaving them dehydrated. This causes water to be retained in your bloodstream, skin, etc., which can lead to that “puffy” look, swelling, bloating, a feeling of tightness in your clothes — in short, a “fat day”. But this post-salt binge “weight gain” isn’t actually fat gain — it’s temporary water weight, caused by electrolyte imbalance. Drinking more water and eating potassium-rich foods help to counter-act these effects and to bring your electrolyte balance back to normal.
Salt’s Real Role in Weight Gain
So why all the anti-salt propaganda? Well, for starters, because sodium does contribute to actual weight gain – albeit indirectly – in the long run. This is because the worst culprit of sodium in our diets isn’t from the salt shaker on the dinner table, but actually comes from all the many hidden doses contained in processed foods, packaged foods, canned foods, snack foods, pre-prepared foods and restaurant foods, that sadly make up the vast majority of the American weekly diet. And it’s all of these sodium-rich foods that also tend to be the bearers of unhealthy amounts of fat, calories, sugar, preservatives, chemicals, and other such wheedlers of real weight gain, with little-to-no nutritional value to boast of. Also, consuming too much sodium with insufficient water (which, according to Tufts University, most Americans are guilty of) leads to chronic dehydration, another common cause of weight gain as well as a number of other serious health problems.
Weight woes aside, overdoing sodium in your diet can also cause more serious medical issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
A Simple Salt Solution
The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults should consume about 1,200 to 1,500 mg of sodium a day. But most of us probably aren’t going to keep a running sodium tab of all the foods we eat in our heads.
Instead, try an easier strategy, that will yield a much wider array of health benefits for you, including weight loss: eat more fresh foods every day. Eat fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, fresh seafood, lean and unprocessed poultry and chicken, all of which naturally contain low amounts of sodium. As soon as a food is modified, processed, packaged, or pre-cooked in any way, it almost always involves adding extra sodium, to compensate for lost natural flavors and to keep it on the shelves longer – good for food manufacturers, but bad news for you, your health and your weight loss goals.
The biggest favor you can do yourself is to collect some quick and simple recipes that involve raw and natural foods, and to cook them from scratch whenever you can (or cook in bulk for the week, if you’re short on time). Even if this involves adding your own dashes of salt to the menu, you can do so with less guilt involved, as it will likely be far less than what you were consuming from all of the processed foods you are actively cutting out from your life. Being responsibly aware of how much salt you are eating will actually become possible again. It will also help to introduce you to all of the many other natural herbs and seasonings available out there to flavor your food, encouraging you to become less reliant on salt without even trying.
Also, try mineral-rich kelp salt as a healthy salt substitute, or potassium salt. Potassium salt tastes a lot like regular sodium-based salt, while also acting as a counterbalance to other sources of sodium in your diet.