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Salty Food Doesn't Actually Make You Thirsty But Does Have One Bad Side Effect

author image Leah Groth
Leah Groth is a writer and editor currently based in Chicago. She has covered topics such as entertainment, health & wellness for such publications and websites as xoJane, Babble, Radar, Fit Pregnancy, Mommy Nearest, Living Healthy and PopDust.
Salty Food Doesn't Actually Make You Thirsty But Does Have One Bad Side Effect
A new study reveals that salt diminishes thirst and increases hunger. Photo Credit: Iuliia Leonova/Adobe Stock

It’s common knowledge that consuming salty foods will leave you thirsty, right? This is why most of us won’t snack on chips unless there's a glass of water nearby. Well, drop every assumption you have about the relationship between salt and thirst because a surprising new study has debunked the longtime myth.

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The study, published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, found that the more salt you consume, the less thirsty you are. It also found that salt makes people hungrier.

A group of international researchers carried out the long-term study during a simulated mission to Mars. Why? The space flight simulation served as a controlled environment — not to mention, it's crucial to figure out how much water is needed before you send a crew out into space.

They divided the participants into two groups of 10 men, and both groups resided in mock spaceships. The first group was observed for 105 days and the second for 205. While each group consumed the same diet, the salt content of the food varied between the two groups.

The researchers found that the “astronauts” who consumed more salt had higher salt content in their urine and also more urine, which wasn't a surprise. But here's the interesting thing: They weren’t peeing more because they were consuming more water — the higher salt diet made them less thirsty because a mechanism was being set off which conserved water in their kidneys. "Nature has apparently found a way to conserve water that would otherwise be carried away into the urine by salt," explains Prof. Friedrich C. Luft, MD, one of the study's co-authors.

Researchers proceeded to take their findings and apply them to mice, determining that the process of preserving water in the kidneys takes a lot of energy, thereby inducing hunger. This information made sense in relation to the astronauts, seeing that those who consumed a saltier diet often complained about being hungry. The researchers determined that salt makes people hungrier, not thirstier, but that hunger is confused with thirst.

Does this mean that bars should get rid of all those salty snacks on the table? According to Luft, this new information doesn't mean bar owners are “necessarily wrong in feeding you salt pretzels.” Why? Mars is a long way away from Earth and the study is more concerned about the long-haul effect. “These elicit secondary, short-term drinking responses so that you drink more beer. We are talking about long-term responses,” Luft explains.

What does this mean if you're trying to lose weight? Given that eating more salt has been found to increase appetite, it means that you should stick to a low-salt diet so you don't feel as hungry.

Need another reason to cut salty foods? Consuming too much sodium can have serious repercussions on your health and may contribute to high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure.

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised that consuming more salt doesn't make you more thirsty? Do you feel hungrier when you consume more salt? Will these findings change the way you consume salt?

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