Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is Salt Making You Fat?

Guest post: Heather K. Jones is a registered dietitian and the author of The Salt Solution, written with the editors of Prevention Magazine. Her blog, The Diet P.I., investigates the best (and worst) choices in the supermarket.

Though salt (sodium chloride) often gets ignored by dieters and healthy eaters, it’s actually one of the deadliest ingredients in the food supply. It's no secret that a high-sodium diet raises blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart attacks and strokes. But new studies show that salt is even more dangerous than we thought: Eating too much has been linked to osteoporosis, dementia, cancer, and other serious health problems. It can also add inches to your waist. Here's how a single ingredient with zero calories can be such a major cause of weight gain—and how you can sleuth out hidden sodium to protect your health.

How does salt make you gain weight? 

Salt increases hunger…

Research shows that consuming salt triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the brain's pleasure center, making salty foods as addictive as nicotine and alcohol. Therefore, as with any addiction, eating salty foods makes you crave more. Since so many salty foods--like potato chips, French fries and fast-food—are also high in fat and calories, overdoing it on salt packs on the pounds.

Salt increases thirst…

Loading up on salt also increases thirst. This wouldn't be an issue if we usually turned to water--but we don't. Research has found a close link between the consumption of salt and intake of sugary and calorie-dense beverages.

Salt increased insulin production…

Eating too much salt may cause weight gain in less noticeable ways too—by changing how your body metabolizes fat. Studies show that a high-salt diet boosts the production of insulin, the hormone that tells the body to store excess sugar as fat. Simply put, the more insulin you have, the more fat you store and the more weight you gain.

How much sodium do you need?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults in general should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day - about one teaspoon, while persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should limit their daily intake of sodium to only 1,500 mg. This was just revised from the previous recommendation of 2,300 milligrams, as new research indicates that excess sodium is even more dangerous than previously thought. Unfortunately, most people are seriously overdosing on sodium. Americans on average consume around 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily.

How can you cut your salt intake?

The greatest concern isn't the flaky stuff you shake on at the table--it's the salt that's already in your food. The biggest culprits are processed and packaged foods, which load up on salt for flavor but also for texture and to prevent spoilage. About 80% of the sodium in our diets comes from calorie-packed, nutrient-poor, processed foods, such as those found on fast food and many restaurant menus, as well as packaged food in supermarkets. And as our lives have become increasingly more hectic and fast paced, salty processed and fast foods have become staples. The best way to cut salt is limit these types of foods and fill your diet with whole foods including whole grains, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy, healthy fats and lean protein.

If you want to decrease sodium in your diet and enjoy healthy and delicious meals, eating in (and preparing healthy recipes like those found on Skinnytaste!) is the way to go! Dining at home gives you full control over your choices and your portions and the flexibility to experiment with new flavors and foods.  


Anonymous said...

You need to balance your article as well. Salt is necessary for thyroid and hormonal function. I am someone with thyroid issues and salt is CRITICAL for a healthy thyroid.

It may not be the salt making you fat. It may mean you need to go to the doctor to check your blood for other factors that may be off.

Anonymous said...

Heather, great article! It wouldn't have had the same effect if you'd tried to make it a thesis paper. I've been taking Synthroid for almost 9 years and have never once worried about salt except when I was on a low iodine diet prior to a radioactive iodine treatment.--A Registered Dietitian

Anonymous said...

It's really not a matter of us eating TOO much salt, but a matter of us eating the WRONG kind of salt. Our bodies can't properly process that chemical laden, heavily refined white stuff called Table Salt. That kind of salt, in any amount, does horrible things to our bodies, including pulling water out of the cells.

Refined Sea Salt isn't any better. If it is white, you can bet it has probably been refined and processed with dangerous chemicals, which you will find traces of remaining in the sea salt.

But completely unrefined salt, salt that has been simply removed from the Earth, then ground up and packaged with no further processing, is very necessary and beneficial to our health. It gives our bodies trace minerals and elements that may not be found in other foods and does all kinds of good things for our bodies. Unrefined salt also levels out and balances the fluids in our cells, helping our entire body to function better and actually regulating our blood pressure! Many people that are in a battle with their blood pressure, even after put on meds, are battling because they WERE put on a low sodium diet and their bodies are starving for the right kind of salt.

I have actually seen several people with high blood pressure, swelled up legs, and on a no/low salt diet, begin using unrefined salt in their diet and watch their swelling go way, way down. It was amazing!

Anonymous said...


What and where is the best source of unrefined salt as suggested by Anonymous?? I am interested in trying an unprocessed, unrefined source.


Alison@cookingwithfriends said...

From someone that loves salt, this was very informative. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

As someone who studied Nutrition in college, iodine, which is commonly found in table salt or iodized salt is an incredibly important to thyroid function, as stated above by another user. Without iodine in our system, we are likely to develop goiters, a serious health issue that is somewhat unsightly.

I wish this article had pointed out this fact, and that you can NOT cut out all iodized salt in your diet, unless you have another source of iodine.

Thanks for the article.

Renee said...

Salt doesn't cause high blood pressure. That's a myth:

As for all your other health claims, where are your citations?

Yes, salt makes things taste good, and if you're eating something that's salty and fatty, you may eat more. But that's not an argument to not eat salt, that's an argument to not eat fat! Salt is a 0 calorie way to make bland diet food taste better.

Anonymous said...

Why do people have such a hard time accepting that salt is bad for you??? Great article!

Gina @ Skinnytaste said...

I have Heather's book, this article is just a paragraph of what she covers in her book but she is not telling people not to have sodium in their diets, what she is saying is that there is so much sodium in processed food, fast food and canned food that the best way to lower your sodium is to make your own home cooked meals from scratch, and be wary of the sodium content of the canned foods your purchase.

Gail said...

I found this article very enlightening! I used to think that as long as I didn't retain excess fluid or have high-blood pressure, then salt didn't matter. After paying attention to the salt buzz the last couple of years, I'm much more aware, but still consume too much. I agree that processed foods are major culprits when it comes to all health-related topics. I resolve this year (!) to consume less processed foods! Thanks for the article.

JJ said...

The anonymous talking about REAL natural sea salt ( has coral or gray specks in it ) Is vital for life. We use Redman Real salt. The amount of iodine in table salt is useless not enough let a lone the right kind. We take Lougo's liquid iodine daily work up to around 8 drops a day in juice or water, we use water. Iodine helps rid the body of toxic chemicals, it binds to them and then the body can rid of them.

Heart problems are NOT caused by salt, fats/cholesterol, heart problems are caused by inflammation and build up of calcium. We also use Swanson's Magnesium oil. EVERY cell in your body HAS to have Cholesterol and Magnesium to survive. If your taking STATIN drugs please get off of them, they are very dangerous. More people die from them than from heart problems,. because they block vital life sustaining minerals from getting to your cells. The brain depends on Cholesterol to function without it you get alzheimer's, dementia and a boat load of other problems..

We have been researching thyroid, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis all types, chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia for 2 yrs now and have learned so much about how dangerous the drugs our well meaning Dr.s give us BAD BAD BAD DEADLY DRUGS. The worse problem is they take the drug companies words for it with out researching the drugs before giving them out. Any one wanting to know the name of the excellent books we have found you can email me at my second account Please put REAL SALT in the subject line.

herbal remedies said...

I never knew that taking too much salt have some health risks involved. Aside from diet issues, linking salt intake to cancer risks is very scary. Thanks for sharing this info!

Anonymous said...

Thank You for posting. Eating too much of anything is not good for you. I have been craving salt bad lately(quit smoking 8 months ago) and Sea Salt pita chips are about the only thing that satifies the craving.I think its the crunchieness too. Crazy I know but.....Ive noticed alot more swelling and Im not losing weight. Do you have any suggestions of something to replace the pta chips.

Debbie said...

Gina, If your to-do list is as long as mine, I'm sure you aren't looking for new things to do. But I have a question/request for you. Will you be updating your recipes to include the sodium per serving? Or create a Low Sodium section? I noticed some have sodium content but others do not.

If it helps, I'm asking because my 84-year-old father-in-law was recently diagnosis with heart failure. He is now on a low sodium diet, which means my husband and I are on a low sodium diet (his dad lives with us). We love your recipes and would like to keep making as many as we can. If you don’t have time to add the sodium content, can you recommend an app that will calculate nutritional information based on ingredients? WW has an app, but it only calculates point.

Thanks so much for considering it!

By the bye, I completely agree with you on hidden sodium. I've been a WW for a couple of years and have lost and kept off more than 20 pounds. My husband & I were beyond shocked when we started tracking sodium for some of our favorite WW recipes. Some contain more than 1000mg per serving, which can be traced directly to the processed foods in the ingredients (canned beans, low-sodium chicken broth (which isn't always that low in sodium), deli meats, etc.). I must admit, I’m disappointed that WW doesn’t put a cap on sodium per serving. I don’t care if they list it, I’d just like to know if it’s above or below 500mg per serving. Sorry about that rant. I’m stepping off of my soapbox now.

Thanks again for considering adding sodium info. Your recipes are standard fare at our house!

salty ladt said...

It's a matter of good salt vs. bad salt. Our bodies need salt. Please read Dr. Brownsteins book. "Salt Your Way to Health" which can be found at He also discusses salt and your thyroid. The best source for a pure unrefined sea salt is Be careful of companies that call their salt sea salt. This does not mean it is an unrefined sea salt. Celtic Sea Salt has been around for over 30 years and have an abundance of books and Doctors who recommend their salt by name. Chip companies or snack companies who say they use sea salt doesn't mean that it is a healthier salt. Don't just think that the name 'sea salt' is healthy. Look for a good source of unrefined sea salt. You will also use less salt by using unrefined sea salt because of it's taste and quality. This is also used by several expert culinary chefs because of its better taste and flavor. Find out more at WWW.CELTICSEASALT.COM or call 1.800.TOP.SALT (867.7258). There staff is super friendly and helpful. They have all there salts analyzed too!!!

Anonymous said...

Are you feeling that it's time to get gaming? Do you have snacks, friends and a new game at the ready? Have you connected to your worthy opponents online? Stop now! Read the following article first so you can learn how to get all you can from your gaming experience.

Take a few breaks when you start playing a game that you're not able to step away from easily. Computer Games are addicting and can damage your overall health. Playing a game should remain fun and light-hearted. Think you're addicted? Seek help.

When possible, download and try demos of games to determine if you actually like it. You can find out if you will even like the game play. Although, it is good to exercise caution when downloading demos. Be sure you only download from well-known websites to avoid computer issues.

Make the screen brighter. If you can't see the game, you won't be able to play well. You may find that you're frequently being attacked because you can't see. Increase the brightness so you do not miss anything, even if it ruins the dark atmosphere of the game. It will make the colors easier to distinguish and you'll be able to spot your enemies before they spot you.

Hang onto those old computer games you used to play. Trade in your games for new ones or for cash to maximize your investment. You can use store credits from your old games to go towards the purchase of new ones.

It can be helpful to play a trial version of a game you are unsure about purchasing. Trials let you test the game out first to see if it's something you like playing. If you enjoy the trial, you can make the purchase.

Get up frequently as you play a game. If you do not take breaks, your body will remain stuck in the same position. Additionally, if you sit immobile for long periods of times, you will get cramps and perhaps even blood clots. Your body will thank you for your efforts.

You can sell your old online games with the use of online ads. EBay is a tool that you can use to get your games on the market, but don't use it first. Sometimes there can be issues with shipping when selling from eBay, but if you know what you are doing, it is a great way to sell your games. Try Craigslist, or use the marketplace app on Facebook.

Some of the most reveled games ever made are classics. Play them! You will also save tons of money this way. Some are available online for quite a deal.

You can get good deals by purchasing used computer games. It is a good idea to buy a disc cleaner if you buy a lot of used games, though. You never understand what sort of shape your game will be in when you do this. If your discs are really dirty a good cleaning kit will help to restore them. It is a good idea to look at several cleaning disc options. There are many kits like this on the market.

Figure out how to operate the safety and parental controls of any gaming system that comes into your home. You can likely make adjustments that keep kids from viewing mature content. Some allow each gaming profile to be customized separately, allowing adults to enjoy games not meant for younger audiences.

The world of online games gets bigger and better over time. But there are many choices to make where gaming is involved. This article has helpful advice for both players and parents. Follow the recommendations presented here to learn how to choose and purchase computer games with confidence.

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