A study has concluded that our fundamental knowledge of salt is apparently totally off base - and this news will make lovers of salty food quite hopeful.
According to an April 2017 study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, German scientists found that people who eat more salt are actually less thirsty than originally thought, although hungrier. They also discovered that the more salt mice consumed, the more calories they burned. In fact, these rodents needed to take in 25 percent more food just to maintain their weight.
Jens Titze, the lead author, has been studying this topic since 1991, when he was a medical student in Berlin, according to a report from the New York Times. This investigation eventually led to examining the effect a high-sodium diet had on crew members from a Russian space programme, as well as mice.
So should salt be considered the newest weight loss food?
"It's hard to say based on limited data," Randy Wexler, MD, an associate professor of family medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, tells Yahoo Beauty. "We do, at times, become surprised at what we thought we knew. However, this requires more evaluation to know if this is true."
Erin Palinski-Wade, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies, explains to Yahoo Beauty that according to the study findings, high sodium intake triggered an increasing production of glucocorticoid hormones to break down fat and muscle. "And this does require energy, so it would indicate that calorie expenditure may increase with a high sodium diet," she says. "However, increased appetite was also seen with elevated sodium intakes, so I would not recommend this strategy as a form of weight loss."
As for the currently understood role sodium plays in weight, Wexler states that at its most basic level, increased sodium causes water retention, which leads to weight gain. "However, in general, the body reaches a steady state or if the salt load was temporary, then the individual will go through diuresis and weight will usually return to baseline," he continues. "As for salt stimulating weight fluctuations through other mechanisms, it is conceivable but still not possible to say."
Palinski-Wade adds that further research may also conclude that high-sodium diets may not lead to weight gain. "Yet in real-life settings, diets rich in sodium are usually this way due to an increased intake of processed foods," she explains. "If you eat a diet high in sodium from fast foods, processed foods, excessive snacks, etc, you are most likely also taking in a diet rich in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and calories, which would cause weight gain regardless of your sodium intake."
Both experts also agree that salt regulation remains a complex issue.
"For example, we know salt also causes changes in cardiac function and the pliability of blood vessels in a manner separate from water retention, which can impact cardiac function," says Wexler. "Salt also plays a role in any number of body mechanisms, though it is not always clear. The bottom line is we are still learning much about salt and how it impacts the body, which can be said of many things about how the body works."
And Palinski-Wade points out that separate research suggests that some individuals are more sodium sensitive than others, which calls into question whether studies - such as this current one - apply to the general population or just a percentage of people.
"As a nutrition professional, my ultimate goal is to have my weight loss clients focus on a nutrient-rich diet filled with vegetables, fruits, fibre and whole grains, along with lean proteins and plant-based fats," Palinski-Wade concludes. "Although sodium should be a focus, a well-rounded diet that is focused on whole foods over processed foods is, in my opinion, a more important focus."