“In a study that seems to defy conventional dietary wisdom, scientists have found that adding high salt to a high-fat diet actually prevents weight gain in mice.”1
So, after all this time, is adding salt to the diet not really as consequential as we thought? Can we just douse our food with it, eat whatever foods we fancy and then magically stay lean and fit? Let’s investigate.
The researchers hypothesized that fat and salt, both tasty and easy to overeat, would collectively increase food consumption and promote weight gain. They tested the hypothesis by feeding groups of mice different diets: normal or high-fat chow with varying levels of salt. To their surprise, the mice on the high-fat diet with the lowest salt gained the most weight.
But how can this be? Don’t we need to eat a diet lower in fat and salt, per USDA recommendations,2 in order to be as healthy as possible?
“Our findings, in conjunction with other studies, are showing that there is a wide range of dietary efficiency, or absorption of calories, in the populations, and that may contribute to resistance or sensitivity to weight gain”, says Michael Lutter, MD, PhD, co-senior study author and UI assistant professor of psychiatry.
Well, that certainly makes sense. Humans certainly are not all cut from the same cloth. We have to factor in genetic variability, and nature versus nurture, in terms of what we we’re fed growing up and whether our upbringing favored activity and exercise.
Furthermore, we need to consider what we are eating in the grand scheme of things. How does this affect our macronutrient ratios and consequently what is our body using for its fuel source? For example, if we eat a ‘healthy’ diet with many servings of natural fruit during the day, we provide our body with a constant, steady stream of carbohydrates. This prevents the body from tapping into stored fat which requires the body to put forth significantly more effort. If, however, we begin the process of becoming fat adapted, we force the body to do the latter and turn to fat as its primary fuel source.3
Many of us who are already in sync with the recommendations of a real Paleo diet are comfortable with the recommendation to eat a diet higher in fat. But, the mention of adding salt really throws us a curve ball! After all, added salt is linked to a host of negative side effects including high blood pressure, osteoporosis and kidney stones, stomach cancer, stroke, Menierre’s Syndrome, insomnia, motion sickness, asthma and exercise induced asthma.4
A brief glance at our colleagues, friends and family’s food habits, provide all the proof we need that the typical American is following a diet far too high in sodium. It’s a fair bet most could do with, at the very least, weaning off the salt, by cutting back on the salt shaker and simultaneously omitting processed foodstuffs. But, this begs the question, how should athletes balance their Paleo diets and replace electrolytes through sweat?
Rehydrating with pure water without also replenishing salts can be potentially fatal and lead to hyponatremia, a condition that can occur when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Drinking too much water during endurance sports causes the sodium in your body to become diluted. When this happens, your body’s water levels rise, and your cells begin to swell. This swelling can cause many health problems, from mild to life threatening.5 Other side effects may include lightheadedness, fatigue, headaches and constipation.
Moreover, on a low carb diet where the body becomes reliant on fat as its fuel, more salt is used in the process when insulin levels go down and the body starts shedding excess sodium and water along with it. On a high carb diet, insulin signals the cells to store fat and the kidneys to hold on to sodium, which is why people often get rid of excess bloat within a few days of low-carb eating.6
But again, if sodium is a crucial electrolyte in the body, how do we replace it? Presuming you’re following a healthy, high in fat, but void of refined, processed carbs and with adequate wild proteins and local veggies Paleo diet, adding a few pinches of salt to a recovery drink is permitted7 and may, in some instances, be a part of preventing weight gain. The general takeaway is not to simply add salt and watch the pounds melt away. Rather, train your body to become fat adapted in conjunction with following a real Paleo approach.
These findings “may lead to the developments of new anti-obesity treatments” and “may support continued and nuanced discussions of public policies regarding dietary nutrient recommendations.”
Let’s hope the new treatments go beyond a new pill or surgery, and the recommendations are evidenced by science versus the current guidelines deterring us as a society to truly follow a path to optimal health!
 ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.
 “Dietary Guidelines.” Dietary Guidelines. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.
 Volek, Jeff, Stephen D. Phinney, Eric Kossoff, Jacqueline A. Eberstein, and Jimmy Moore. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable. Lexington, KY: Beyond Obesity, 2011. Print.
 “Sea Salt: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 20 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 June 2015.
 “Hyponatremia.” – Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.
 “Insulin’s Impact on Renal Sodium Transport and Blood Pressure in Health, Obesity, and Diabetes.” Insulin’s Impact on Renal Sodium Transport and Blood Pressure in Health, Obesity, and Diabetes. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.
 Cordain, Loren, and Joe Friel. “Stages III, IV, V: Eating After Exercise.” The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance. New York: Rodale, 2012. 56-57. Print.