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

You Won't Believe This

It turns out that we humans have more in common with camels than you may have thought. Like camels, we have the ability to produce water by breaking down our own fat and muscle tissue.

And that appears to be what happens when you eat a lot of salt.  Levels of glucocorticoid hormone in your body go up, and this triggers the breakdown of fat and muscle tissues, which releases water, which helps flush the excess sodium out of your body. All of this fancy metabolic activity burns extra energy and calories, which makes you hungry. Who knew?

Will Eating More Salt Help you Lose Weight?

Now, you may have zeroed in on the fact that eating more salt causes your body to break down fat and burn extra calories. Perhaps you’re wondering why a high-sodium diet wouldn’t be a good way to lose weight?

For one thing, the increase in your appetite could easily lead you to consume a lot more calories than whatever extra calories your body is burning to deal with the salt.  But there are a lot of other reasons that this is a bad weight control strategy.

The glucocorticoid hormones cause your body to break down muscle as well as fat, and that is NOT the kind of weight you want to be losing. High levels of these hormones are also linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis and Type 2 diabetes.

The Bottom Line

This study has thrown everything we thought we knew about how our bodies regulate sodium and fluid into a bit of a blender. But in a way, it raises more questions than it answers. One of the things that I’d like to see researchers look at next is whether increasing your fluid intake (whether you’re thirsty or not) helps prevent the sodium-triggered bump in hormones that causes your body to break down its own tissue.

The study also produced some unexpected findings relating to salt, metabolism, and appetite. But contrary to some of the headlines you may have seen, it doesn’t show that eating more salt will help you lose weight.

To the contrary, eating more salt may increase your appetite. And salty foods are often high in calories as well. Either way, eating too much salt could easily lead you to take in more calories than you need. 


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.