The truth about salt and weight loss

Past studies suggesting that eating salt can help you shed the kilos may have encouraged a heavy hand with the salt shaker, but a new study suggests that more salt does not, in fact, promote weight loss. 

The study, led by Stephen Juraschek, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), supports the traditional notion that decreasing sodium intake is important in managing hypertension.

Reducing sodium intake in adults with elevated blood pressure or hypertension decreased their thirst, urine volume, and blood pressure, the research revealed. However, it did not affect their metabolic energy needs. 

The results were published in the journal Hypertension

Salt vs. sodium: what’s the difference?

Salt is made up of sodium and chlorine and the sodium part is what is responsible for raising your blood pressure. Although word sodium is often used interchangeably with salt, you need to multiply the sodium figure by 2.5 if you want to determine the amount of salt you’re dealing with.

The study 

Using data from a well-controlled, 2001 study with 400 participants who followed two distinct diets – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)-Sodium trial, and a typical, controlled American diet – researchers analysed the effects of three different levels of sodium intake (low, medium, and high) on participants’ blood pressure.

In their secondary analysis of the DASH-Sodium trial, they measured the impact of sodium intake on participants’ energy intake, weight, self-reported thirst, and 24-hour urine volume. 

They found that while reduced sodium intake did not affect the amount of energy required to maintain a stable weight, it did, however, decrease participants’ thirst. Urine volume was either unchanged or lower with reduced sodium intake.

The results suggest that in adults with elevated blood pressure or hypertension, reducing sodium intake could decrease thirst, and therefore fluid intake and urine volume, as well as blood pressure. 

When you’re thirsty, your body is telling you that there’s not enough water to support the amount of sodium in your system, so it sends a signal to your brain to drink more, explained Mandy Enright to Women’s Health.

"Our study contributes meaningfully to this scientific debate and underscores the importance of sodium reduction as a means to lower blood pressure," Juraschek said. 

Salt: friend or foe?

Even if you don’t have hypertension, it’s still wise to cut back on the salt and reduce your blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure under control means you’re helping to reduce your heart disease risk, risk of stroke, brain haemorrhage and kidney failure.

Even if you don’t add salt to your meals during or after cooking, there are hidden salts in processed foods that can escalate your intake. The scary part is that we don’t even realise it. Get this: up to 70% of the salt in our diets is hidden in processed foods, including foods that don’t necessarily taste salty, such as bread, butter, cheese, breakfast cereals and pastas. Salt water is also injected into many fresh and frozen meats to make them juicier and increase volume.

The recommended limit

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA) notes that our body needs salt to survive, but only small amounts. According to the Foundation, high blood pressure is responsible for one in two strokes and two in five heart attacks in South Africa.

South Africans consume, on average, 8.5g of salt per day, yet the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting salt intake to no more than 5g per person per day (equivalent to one level teaspoon).

Moderation is key, and here are a few basic tips for reducing salt in your diet:

  • Read the nutrition label on food items: avoid products that contain 15% or more of the recommended daily intake of sodium per serving.
  • Make a conscious effort to gradually reduce your salt intake: your taste buds will adapt.
  • Experiment with new flavours: toss out the salt and replace it with herbs, spices and lemon juice and vinegar.

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