Salt has long played the role of diet villain, but a series of new studies is writing a very different narrative for the maligned seasoning. The findings suggest that consuming more salt staves off thirst and helps people burn more calories.
The studies were helmed by kidney scientist Jens Titze, reports the New York Times. Titze’s unconventional hypothesis that salt may produce the opposite health effects that people have long considered canon — increased thirst and weight gain — was spurred decades ago when he observed how urine volume fluctuated among crew members who participated in a 28-day simulated space mission.
In a series of studies that followed between 1994 and 2006 with Russian space crew members and mice, Titze collected data that expressed that a high-salt diet triggers hunger, reduces thirst sensations, and triggers increased caloric expenditures. The hunger effect, Titze believes, is a result of elevated glucocorticoid hormones — hormones that impact metabolism. Glucocorticoid hormone levels increased as salt intake increased, and in turn broke down fat and muscle and allowed the body to generate its own source of water, similar to how camels survive in the desert.
Breaking down fat and muscle exerts a fair amount of energy, which is why the participants burned more calories and felt hungrier. But you might not want to go on a high-salt diet just yet: Since more salt makes you hungrier, you’d have to make sure you didn’t consume excess calories in the long run. Plus, elevated glucocorticoid hormone levels aren’t necessarily ideal — though they may impact metabolism, they’re are also linked to osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.