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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Healthy Eating arrow Does Salt Make You Gain Weight? Get the Facts

Does Salt Make You Gain Weight? Get the Facts

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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
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Fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
Last update: November 9, 2023
6 min read 455 Views 0 Comments
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Leave doubts behind and find out how salty foods can really affect your body weight and health

does salt make you gain weight

When embarking on a diet, reducing salt intake is usually the first step. Yet, the question remains – does salt, which has zero calories, affect your weight? 

In the pursuit of weight loss, salt is often drastically reduced or even removed from meals despite its crucial role in maintaining muscle function and electrolyte balance. So, where do you draw the line? 

In order to maintain a healthy weight, it is important to understand salt’s complex relationship with weight. To achieve a healthier you, let’s unravel the mysteries of sodium consumption and the impact it has on your health.

Does Salt Make You Gain Weight? A Look at What Science Says

Salt itself doesn’t lead to weight gain since it contains no calories. However, it can cause your weight to fluctuate temporarily due to fluid retention. Additionally, a high salt intake may prompt you to eat more calorie-dense foods, which can contribute to weight gain over time.

It is common for processed foods to contain large amounts of salt in order to preserve them for a longer period of time. Furthermore, such foods often contain other preservatives that promote that pleasing taste that keeps you coming back for more.

This combination of ingredients can encourage mass consumption of these products, resulting in an increased calorie intake and leading to weight gain.

In addition, some studies on salt and insulin resistance have given signals about the relationship of sodium intake with carbohydrate metabolism.

Salt and Water Retention

The main component of salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), which is an essential electrolyte that has the capacity to retain water.

This happens to maintain the hydro-electrolyte balance, which ensures that bodily functions are carried out smoothly. If, on the other hand, there is less sodium intake, the body excretes water until it finds the right balance.

This is one of the reasons why high salt intake is associated with weight gain, since as the amount of water goes up, the weight on the scale also increases.

It should be noted that this weight gain does not depend on body fat. And, the weight that fluctuates due to water retention is temporary.

How Long Does Sodium Weight Gain Last

The duration of sodium weight gain depends on several factors, such as the amount of sodium consumed, physical activity level, and the amount of water you drink during the day.

It may take a couple of days or several weeks to lose the pounds of fluid gained, but to speed up the process, you can take some measures such as:

  • Engage in moderate cardiovascular exercise that promotes sweating.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent fluid retention and promote water excretion through urine.
  • Follow the American Heart Association recommendation and limit salt intake up to 2000 mg per day for healthy adults.
  • Choose low-sodium weight-loss foods such as berries, oranges, and green vegetables.
  • Limit processed foods that often contain high amounts of sodium.
  • You should monitor your carbohydrate intake since it can cause your body to store more water.

Common Myths and Misconceptions About Salt and Weight

One of the main misconceptions regarding sodium intake arises because of its association with heart disease.

Indeed, a high-sodium diet may increase the risk of cardiovascular events.

Increased sodium intake leads to greater water retention, which in turn raises the volume of blood in your veins, requiring your heart to work harder. In an effort to prevent heart disease, some people have erroneously eliminated all sodium from their diet, not realizing that sodium isn’t just in table salt—it’s in various foods we consume daily.

Did you know that foods naturally contain sodium? Because of this, you will never be 100% sodium-free. For example, 4 oz of chicken breast naturally contains 75 mg of sodium. This means that there is no such thing as a sodium-free diet.

On the other hand, the amount of added sodium in pre-packaged products is often underestimated and tends to be abused.

It is important to understand that sodium intake is necessary for essential functions in the body, such as the transmission of nerve signals, maintaining the balance of body fluids, and helping muscle contraction. Its consumption should not be abused, but neither can salt be eliminated entirely.

How to Cut Back on Added Salt

An optimal diet, not only for weight loss but also for health, should contain all macronutrients, micronutrients, and electrolytes. Among the latter are potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium.

An imbalance of electrolytes, including sodium, puts overall health at risk. Therefore, you have to consume only what is necessary.

To achieve a lower sodium intake, you can follow some recommendations:

  • Avoid highly processed foods such as deep frozen and microwave-ready foods, as these are options that tend to be high in salt.
  • Choose fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, and lean meats, and use little salt when cooking them.
  • Opt for low-fat cheeses with reduced salt content instead of deli meats and salty cheeses
  • Keep powdered spices in your pantry to flavor foods such as oregano, pepper, cumin, paprika, and thyme, among others.
  • Read nutritional labels. Remember that the daily recommendation is to consume less than 2000 mg of sodium per day.

Health Implications of Excessive Salt Consumption

When there is a high salt intake, the body will try to compensate by retaining more fluid to decrease its concentration. This means your heart will have to mobilize more fluid, increasing cardiac output and causing high blood pressure.

Cardiac output is the amount of blood that the heart is able to pump throughout the body to supply the organs. With a more significant amount of fluid retained, the heart muscle must increase its contractions to meet the demand.

The heart may eventually lose this capacity, giving way to cardiovascular disease and the “stagnation” of fluids that cannot be mobilized, known as edema.

Moreover, the cardiovascular system is not the only one that suffers the consequences of a high-salt diet.

The kidneys also increase their workload. The excessive filtration of fluids and high sodium intake can damage the glomeruli where this occurs. In addition, salt is directly related to inflammation and renal fibrosis.

In the long term, high blood pressure and renal overload can lead to the development of chronic renal failure due to excess sodium, causing the kidneys to fail to perform their function properly leading to life-threatening complications.

Expert image border HR_author_photo_Edna
Edna Skopljak, MD
Medical advisor for Health Reporter

Reading a product label can be tricky since you must know your nutritional requirements to understand the numbers.

When it comes to salt, 300 mg of sodium in a product may be a moderate amount in relation to your daily dose if you’re a healthy person. But, if you’re looking to reduce your intake, 300 mg of sodium per serving may be too much for you.

To avoid going over your requirement, buy products with a low percent daily value (%DV). For example, the %DV of a product with 300 mg of sodium is 13%.

You can monitor the amount of salt you consume by taking notes to keep track of what you eat and consult with your nutritionist to help you identify the right foods for your diet.

FAQ

How much salt is recommended daily?

Healthy people should consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium a day, but an ideal limit is no more than 1500 mg per day.

Are sea salt and table salt different in terms of health?

Due to their sodium content, sea salt and table salt have mostly the same health impact, despite sea salt having more trace minerals.

Does salt have calories?

Salt does not contain calories. As a mineral, sodium is essential to nerve transmission and muscle function, but it does not provide energy like carbohydrates, fats, or proteins do.

Does salt make you fat or just bloated?

Weight gain resulting from salt consumption stems from the body retaining water, a condition often referred to as “water weight,” which is distinct from an increase in body fat but can cause a bloated appearance.

Does salt cause belly fat?

No, salt intake by itself does not cause an increase in body fat. However, excessive consumption of processed foods might cause weight gain due to other altered metabolic mechanisms.

Conclusion

Several factors can contribute to weight gain, including metabolic changes, appetite fluctuations, and fluid retention, all of which may be influenced by salt intake

While any weight increase from fluid retention is typically temporary, causing daily variations on the scale, it’s possible to reverse such gains swiftly. By moderating salt consumption, cutting back on processed foods, and engaging in regular physical activity, one can quickly shed the weight attributed to a high-salt diet.

Eliminating salt entirely from your diet is not advisable due to its crucial role in numerous bodily functions. Instead, it’s best to consume salt in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.

You should always seek professional advice before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
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HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
HR_author_photo_Edna
Fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
Last update: November 9, 2023
6 min read 455 Views 0 Comments
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