Sugar has been in the diet spotlight for years as an ingredient that's linked to a torrent of health issues, but new research suggests that another common dietary staple deserves equal attention: salt. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has found that this pervasive ingredient, which is found in everything from bread to canned beans, might be to blame for those after-meal hunger pangs and bloating.
Researchers asked two groups of people to follow a diet with identical calories and nutrient content—except for the salt intake. According to Health, those who consumed a diet high in salt reported feeling hungrier more often, despite having an energy intake equal to those on a low salt diet. Yes, adding a few high-salt foods to your cart is actually making you crave more food.
Jens Titze, MD, senior author and associate professor at Vanderbilt University, suggests this might be because your body is dehydrated. "It makes sense that on a high-salt diet, the body wants to prevent water loss," he says. The body tries to hoard and conserve water, which uses energy—thus making you feel hungrier after your meal.
Interestingly, they also discovered the age-old wisdom that salty foods make you thirsty isn't necessarily true. Those who ate a high-salt diet actually drank less water, "suggesting that their bodies were either conserving or producing more water, not flushing it out with the salt, as previously suspected," Health explains. The unfortunate effect? Bloating.
So if you can't understand why your exercise and diet efforts aren't paying off, science suggests you should pay attention to your salt intake. By reducing the number of salty foods you eat and opting for spices over table salt, you'll likely banish those after-dinner hunger pangs and uncomfortable bloating. It's a win-win.