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Too Much Salt Causes Rapid Weight Gain

Feeling salty about your current weight? Try cutting back on sodium. According to recent findings, it makes us crave fat—like, lots of it.

In your quest to trim down, you've cut back on creamy foods, sugary snacks, and even carbs. (Oprah is not so secretly rolling her eyes about that last thing.) But the scale is being more stubborn than ever. Your next strategy? Cut back on salt. According to two studies conducted by Deakin University in Australia, consuming too much sodium can lead to fatty foods cravings and binges, which can definitely cause weight gain. Not cool, salt.

There's more bad news: Even if you don't think you're eating that much of the salty stuff, you probably are. (Cue the groans!) The government's dietary guidelines recommend that adults limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. (Which is what you'd find in 2.3 Big Macs or 11.5 individual packets of salt.) Meanwhile, it's estimated that the average American consumes around 3,300 milligrams of sodium daily, with 75 percent of it coming from processed foods and restaurant meals. (Get a taste of what we mean by checking out these 20 Restaurant Desserts With More Salt Than A Bag of Pretzels!)

But back to the studies: Based on previous findings, The Deakin University researchers had a hunch that salt might mess with fat sensitivity, so they set up two experiments to test the theory. During their first trial, they had 49 participants taste a variety of milk-based tomato soups with different salt and fat concentrations. Participants were then asked to rate each, noting their desire to continue slurping. Fat sensitivity was also measured by noting the participants' ability to taste the fatty acids in the milk. According to the data, people really love the taste of salt. In fact, they found that salt was more important than fat when it came to the soups' yum factor. Even more interestingly, they found that people who were sensitive to the taste of fat preferred the lower-fat soups more than those who are less sensitive—but only for soups with no added salt. Once salt was added to the mix, their preference for a lower-fat version changed, suggesting that salt "masks" our fat preference. Simply put: "The strong effect of salt on pleasantness may indicate that salt is major driver of [cravings for]… savory fatty food[s]," say the authors.

The second study looked at how salt affects the amount of food we consume. The research crew enrolled 48 participants and had them come in on four separate occasions for lunch. They were served macaroni and sauce each day with varying concentrations of fat and salt. The researchers measured food intake each day and discovered that participants consumed 11 percent fewer calories when their meals were lower in salt and higher in fat. They also observed that people ate the most when they were given high-salt, high-fat lunches, indicating that high levels of salt mess with the body's satiety cues.

"Our body has biological mechanisms to tell us when to stop eating, and fat activates those mechanisms in people who are sensitive to the taste of fat," says the lead study author, Professor Russell Keast. "However when salt is added to the food, those mechanisms are blunted and people end up eating more food." This can cause you to eat more fatty foods and over time, your body adapts or becomes less sensitive to fat, leading you to eat more to get the same feelings of fullness. Though many fats carry health benefits (like these 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin), they're also calorie-dense, so eating large servings can lead to weight gain.

Eat This! Tip

To cut back on the salty stuff and help the pounds come off, limit your intake of restaurant food, and also cut back on sodium-filled snacks and grocery items (like chips, beef jerky, tomato sauce, canned soup and soda).