The Scientific Reason We Love Salty Foods

Dacy Knight
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As much as we try to commit to healthy eating and filling our bodies with nutritious choices, we have to admit we have a soft spot when it comes to salty foods. There's something comforting about savory snacks and sides that simultaneously fill us up while leaving us craving more. As it turns out, there's a scientific explanation for our insatiable interest in all things salty, and it's actually related—perhaps not so surprisingly—to drug addiction.

Researchers from the Florey Institute conducted a study that suggests our salt cravings originate from the same area of the brain responsible for drug addiction. Body and Soul recently highlighted the research, noting that it's the opioid system, composed of brain transmitters that reward us for certain "good" behaviors like physical exercise and drinking water, that gives us those pleasant feelings when we consume salt (which, in moderation, is essential to our well-being).

During the study, scientists blocked different reward transmitters in different sets of mice, then exposed them to salty water to determine which transmitter was responsible for salt-seeking. The mice given a drug called naloxonazine had a significantly lower interest in the salty water than the other groups of mice. Naloxonazine targets the amygdala, the same area of the brain that controls emotions, revealing why we might have such strong feelings of comfort and satisfaction in response to salty foods. Scientists could potentially use similar drugs to block the transmitter that makes us crave salt (or give in to drug addictions, where the same receptors are at play) and thereby help us to make healthier choices.

How do you feel about these findings? What's your stance on potentially taking drugs that have the power to curb our unhealthy cravings? Share your thoughts!

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