Does eating salt make you gain weight? I heard it a million times from my grandmother: “lf you eat too much salt, you’ll puff up like a balloon!” Whenever we had dinner at her house, she’d make the traditional Italian meals high in carbs: spaghetti, lasagna, stuffed rigatoni, but never did she add any salt. Well before the FDA warned us about our high salt intake, she advocated a low-sodium lifestyle for a slimmer, healthier life. But as I grew up I began to doubt my grandmother’s wisdom. ls it true? Does salt really make you gain weight?
So, does salt make you gain weight?
It turns out that salt’s relationship with weight gain is a tricky one. Much of the time, it’s not just the salt in our food that’s the problem, but everything else that usually comes with it. Salt gets a lot of the blame for weight gain because it works like the opposite of a diuretic; making our bodies retain extra water. This might make it appear as if we’ve gained an extra few pounds, but really it’s just temporary. As the salt leaves your system, so will the extra water and the extra weight.
There is the link between salty foods and weight gain
There is, however, a link between salt consumption and weight gain. This is because many of the salty foods we eat are processed foods. Food manufacturers add a huge amount of salt to chips, microwave dinners, and fast food in order to make it more ﬂavorful and cut down on more expensive spices and ﬂavors. Ever get home from a Chinese restaurant craving a big glass of water? That’s probably because that sesame chicken you ate had more salt than the Dead Sea!
Restaurant foods together with the processed and packaged foods in your cabinets also have high sugar, fat, and calorie content, meaning that high salt consumption often comes as a package deal with these other unhealthy factors. Rather than the salt, it’s the other unhealthy aspects of these foods that cause weight gain.
How much salt or sodium is in popular diets?
As we mentioned, low salt diets help you to lose water weight quickly. Here’s a brief overview of how a few popular diets that we recommend handle salt. Keep in mind that the average adult should have no more than about 2300 mg / day of sodium:
- NutriSystem – (click any diet for coupons) The standard NutriSystem program contains about 1800 mg/daily sodium. (source) That’s well under the recommended daily amount
- Medifast – A typical day of Medifast meals only totals about 1200 mg of sodium. (source) That’s about half the limit, and helps with that fast initial weight loss that we discussed earlier
- Weight Watchers – With the Weight Watchers diet, you get most of your food from the grocery store. Check your nutrition labels, and avoid eating out too often, as restaurants often add a lot of salt for flavor. Weight Watchers Online has a lot of resources if you would like help choosing low-salt foods
- BistroMD – Since your meals are boxed and delivered, they will have a higher salt content than other diets. While voted the best tasting prepared meals, they don’t hold the salt. Check the sodium content of meals, which are prominently displayed with the cooking instructions
Be wary of fast weight loss from low sodium diets
Many fad diets, like juice ﬂushes, focus on low sodium consumption for quicker weight loss. While you might drop some quick weight after one of these diets, it’s not permanent — you’ve probably only lost water weight, not fat. You’ll likely gain the weight back once you start eating regular meals that contain higher levels of salt again. Most of us want real, lasting results in fat bum and weight loss, not just a couple pounds of water. Eating a low-sodium crash diet might be great for losing a few pounds the week before prom, but it’s not a sustainable weight loss method. Always choose a diet that encourages exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.
So, you’re saying it’s not really just the salt that’s the problem?
Put it this way. If you invite Justin Bieber to your party, bad things will probably happen. While it might actually be the members of Justin’s posse that trash your house and break your toilet, it’s Justin who will ultimately get the bad rap.
Rest easy knowing that shaking a bit of salt (aka Justin Beiber) onto a healthy meal or a plate of vegetables will not cause you to store fat, as it’s not just the salt that’s the problem. Avoiding high-sodium packaged foods will help you avoid high sugar, fat, and calorie content, assisting in your weight loss.
Of course, if you’re prone to high blood pressure, you may want to avoid salt for medical reasons (but that’s something you should ask your doctor). So go ahead and sprinkle some salt onto grandma’s lasagna without worry, because salt doesn’t make you gain weight; but, keep in mind that a teaspoon of salt can contain an entire day’s recommended amount of sodium!
Tip: Did you know that potassium can help offset the negative effects of sodium in blood pressure?