Can Too Much Salt Encourage Overeating?

A man sitting at a dining table adding salt to his food.

Excess sodium and hunger are closely connected. Learn how salt’s addictive taste and other physical effects can lead to eating larger portions than you really need.

Key takeaways:

  • Salt enhances flavor, which can make food more desirable and lead to overeating
  • Salt can diminish fat’s ability to make us feel full, leading to increased appetite
  • Processed and ultra-processed foods contribute to that “just one more” feeling
  • Overeating salty foods can lead to weight gain and obesity

Salt and thirst are strongly connected in most people’s minds. The general understanding is that the saltier food is, the more we need to drink to stay hydrated. There is some science behind this popularly held view. Eating salty foods can upset the body’s delicate sodium/fluid balance, forcing us to drink more to regain equilibrium.

The thirst narrative isn’t the whole story, however. High-sodium foods can also significantly increase appetite and lead to salty cravings – the more we get, the more we want. Here’s how salt and overeating are connected, and how you can strike a healthy, satisfying balance.

A great-tasting additive we’re hardwired to hoard

Salty fries or plain? Most people would probably choose the first option. Humans just love the taste of salt, which has the added benefit of complementing desirable flavors and masking undesirable ones. Salt was also a rarity as humans evolved, and its two components – sodium and chloride – are essential nutrients that our bodies don’t produce naturally – meaning that we have to get them through our diets.

Since salt was difficult to find in nature, our brains became hardwired over millennia to stock up on it whenever it was available. In our deepest cells, we’re all still nomads living in bodies that regard salt as a rare commodity despite its availability on supermarket shelves, dining tables, and in almost every canned or packaged food.

Of course, we eat salt because we enjoy the taste, but we’re also driven to satisfy that primal hoarding instinct. So without thinking, we add a little salt and then a little more. And that salt needs to be poured on something, so we plate another serving or pop another bag. It’s probably not surprising, then, that a 2014 study found that people who eat the most salt are also often the ones who also eat the most food.

High-sodium foods make us feel less full

Genetic hardwiring and a pleasant taste aren’t the only factors linking salt and overeating. Salty foods are also less satiating, forcing us to eat more to feel full. Take processed foods for example, which are the sources of around 70 percent of sodium in the average American diet.

The worst offenders are known as ultra-processed foods, a list that includes popular favorites like candy bars, fried chicken, and potato chips. These kinds of foods tend to make us want to have “just one more” because satisfying hunger is only half of their effect.

The other half increases levels of ghrelin – a hormone responsible for triggering appetite. You’re therefore becoming hungrier as you eat, leading to increased food intake at a faster rate. This increased feeding speed is due to processed foods like potato chips often being oil-soaked and soft, so they’re practically gone the moment they hit your mouth. Unfortunately, the sodium they carry sticks around far longer.

Feeling down can make appetite and sodium levels go up

Foods with high sodium levels can be comforting when people feel sad or depressed. A study by the University of Iowa found that salt sends messages to the brain and affects sensations of mood, reward, and motivation. Sodium also fires neurons that make us want to eat more of it according to another study by the California Institute of Technology.

The Caltech study also makes another important point. It takes the body a while to fully absorb sodium after it’s consumed. This delay is another factor that could fuel people to keep eating more salty foods because the effects aren’t immediate.

Unfortunately, ultra-processed foods are also connected with depression. A decade-long study discovered that adults who ate the most ultra-processed foods were 33 percent more likely to develop depression than those who ate such foods infrequently.

The connection between sodium, weight gain, and obesity

As you probably know, ultra-processed food – and processed food in general – is also higher in sugar, fat, and refined carbohydrates than fresh food, so a diet based mainly on processed foods can lead to consuming hundreds of extra calories per day. What you probably didn’t know, however, is that high sodium intake has been linked to weight gain regardless of the actual caloric content of the food being consumed. 

Either way, eating salty, ultra-processed foods leads to weight gain. And when your weight climbs, you need even more food to fuel that bigger body. which leads to even more overeating. And the cycle continues.

The takeaway here is that sodium awareness is the key to managing the relationship between salt, overeating, and weight gain. And one great way to start getting that salty flavor you love without overdoing the sodium is to integrate MicroSalt® products into your menu.

How to lower your sodium intake without even noticing

Getting the salty taste you love with half the health risk is not only possible, it’s easier than you think. MicroSalt® is a revolutionary solution that can help you cut back on sodium without a struggle. Snack on a pack of SaltMe®! Chips or add our salt shaker to your dining table and you won’t even notice the difference.

That’s because MicroSalt® is all-natural salt – it just has 50 percent less sodium than conventional salt. This kind of innovation has won us the P&G Alumni Network Star Entrepreneur Award for 2021 and the Sodium Reduction Technology Provider of the Year for 2022. Just contact us to learn more.

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