Salt and Weight Gain
It should first be said that salt in and of itself does not cause or lead to weight gain. However, this does not mean that your salty intake is not associated with weight fluxes. Salt has no calories but a diet high in salt content is often associated with weight gain as well as blood pressure fluctuations.
Fact is that foods that are high in salt content tend to be more calorie dense, fiber poor, processed foods, like those consumed at fast food restaurants and on the shelves of your local supermarket. Conversely, foods that are low in salt content tend to be low in calories and are generally the healthier foods that are associated with weight loss.
Salt Consumption and Water Retention
Many people think that salt results in long-term weight gain but high consumption of salt generally only results in short-term weight gain as it causes your body to retain water. On the other end of the spectrum, low consumption of salt can result in temporary weight loss as it causes your body to expel water.
Water retention is part of the reason many sports drinks contain so much salt in them. The sodium that is contained in sports drinks contains a high concentration of electrolytes, something our bodies are dependent on. Electrolytes carry the electrical impulses that control our bodily functions which is why it is imperative for our bodies to have a constant concentration of electrolytes in them. When we drink an adequate amount of water, our kidneys work to keep the concentration of electrolytes in our blood constant by increasing or decreasing the amount of water we retain. Sports drinks are designed to provide this little extra boost.
What Else is Excess Salt Consumption Associated With?
In addition to being associated with poor food choices and temporary weight gain and loss, excessive salt consumption can also affect your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain.
Kidneys– In the kidneys, the addition of excessive salt increases the amount of sodium in your bloodstream and wrecks the balance of sodium and potassium that pulls water across a wall of cells from the bloodstream into a collecting channel that leads to the bladder. This results in high blood pressure and places extra strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys.
Arteries– As a result of the extra blood pressure placed on your body from salt, the arteries are also strained and try to cope by becoming stronger and thicker. This compensation makes the space inside the arteries smaller and leads to rises in blood pressure meaning the organs become starved of the oxygen and nutrients they need.
Heart– If excess salt consumption continues the amount of blood making it to the heart will also suffer. If the arteries that deliver blood to the heart are completely clogged, the part of the heart that was receiving the blood will fail and result in a heart attack.
Brain– In addition to a lack of blood affecting your arteries and heart, the strain can also affect your brain. Just like with a heart attack, a lack of blood getting to your brain can cause it to fail, resulting in a stroke.
How Much Is Too Much Salt?
Most of the salt we consume daily is derived from the foods we eat and not the addition of it from the salt shaker or via cooking. An adult should consumer no more than six grams of salt per day although many people consumer much more than this. To cut back on salt consumption and related blood pressure issues, try to practice the following:
- Seek foods with reduced salt.
- Your goal should be to reduce your consumption of salt-rich foods and the consumption of salty products. You need not keep an exact tally of how much salt you are eating.
- Give your taste buds time to adjust to less salt in your foods. It will only take a couple of weeks.
- Consider buying low-sodium salt alternatives (ask your doctor)
Daniel E. Lofaso is a health and fitness writer who frequently covers fitness-related topics for gyms and health professionals, promoting healthy living and his beloved Long Island gym.