How Salty Foods Affect Hunger and Weight Loss

Do salty foods make you hungrier? Or do they help you burn more calories? A new study finds that salt has unexpected effects on hunger and weight loss. Learn how this affects you. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #436

Most of the warnings we hear about reducing the amount of salt in our diets have to do with reducing the risks related to high blood pressure.  But a new study suggests another reason that some people may want to curtail their sodium intake: Eating salty foods may make you hungrier.

I’ve always suspected on an intuitive level that salty foods might lead you to eat more than you otherwise would--simply because they can be tasty.

For example, I am likely to eat more salted nuts than unsalted nuts.  Even though I enjoy the flavor of unsalted nuts, somehow salted nuts are more compelling. Instead of having a handful and feeling satisfied, as I might with unsalted almonds or cashews, I just want to keep eating salted nuts.

In fact, one of the things that I suggest for people who find it difficult to observe portion control when eating nuts is to switch to the unsalted variety.

But this recent study found something even more interesting, and way more complicated.

A Salty Diet May Increase Appetite

This study was done on a small group of Russian cosmonauts who were living in a simulated space capsule as training for a long mission. Over the course of the study, the researchers changed up the amount of salt in the cosmonauts’ diets, ranging from a low sodium diet of around 2300 mg per day, to a more typical intake of 3,500 mg per day, up to a peak of 4800 mg of sodium a day.  Although the salt varied, the calorie levels remained the same. And yet, as the researchers increased the amount of salt on the food, the subjects reported being hungrier.

A parallel study done by the same researchers in mice found that higher sodium diets caused the mice to eat a lot more food. 

The other weird thing that the researchers noticed—in both the men and the mice—was that as their salt intake increased, their urine output increased—despite the fact that they were drinking less water.

How the Body Gets Rid of Salt 

Increasing urine production is one way the body has of getting extra sodium out of the body.  For the last 50 years at least, we’ve been told that when people eat more salt it makes them thirsty, causing them to increase their fluid intake. That extra fluid increases urine output, which helps flush the excess sodium out of the body.

That’s the story anyway. And that’s the logic behind that bowl of salty pretzels on the bar. It’s there to make you thirsty so you order more drinks. Well, barkeeps, you may want to reevaluate your strategy.

In these studies, eating more salt didn’t make the subjects thirstier; over the long run, it made them less thirsty. And yet despite drinking less water, they were producing more urine. So, where was all that extra fluid coming from if they weren’t drinking it?


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.