Everyone’s taste buds are different, so there is a wide variation in the types of flavors people prefer. Some of us love sweet treats, some of us prefer savory foods, and some of us are “lovers of all things salty.” But research has shown too much of one thing can cause complicated interactions between food and our bodies. A new study suggests that salty foods can provoke consumption of fatty foods, and even cause this overconsumption of fatty foods among individuals who typically prefer less fatty foods.
Prior research has highlighted that compared to sweet foods, salty foods have a stronger relationship with high-fat foods. This salty-fatty food connection is suggested to promote eating patterns that are uncontrolled, higher in energy (calories), and increase the risk of being overweight. This new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that adding salt to foods at just one meal can increase overall food consumption and energy intake at that one meal, even if the person typically has low interest in fatty foods.
In the study, researchers created four versions of the same meal:
- A low fat-low salt version
- A low fat – high salt version
- A high fat – low salt version
- A high fat-high salt version
By using oleic acid, the researchers were able to test the 48 participants, aged 18 to 54, whether or not they typically had a preference for fatty foods. All of the participants had a BMI ranging from 17.8 to 34.4.
During the study, all participants all ate the same breakfast, then went on to attend four lunch meals (instructed to “eat as much as they like,” until comfortably full. Each of the lunches were presented the same way, macaroni and tomato sauce; however, each of the sauces were modified to be one of the four versions listed above. The low-fat sauce option contained about 0.6 grams of fat per 100-gram serving, while the high fat version contained 15.5 grams of fat in the same amount. Researchers monitored the lunch, recording the amount eaten, as well as how fast the subjects consumed the meals. Researchers also noted the participants’ rating of the pleasantness of the meal and personal feelings of hunger and fullness.
The researchers found that the subjects who ate the higher salt versions of the sauce ate more food and calories, regardless of the fat concentration of the sauce. ** It was clear that the addition of salt, but not fat, seemed to explain the higher food intake in the subjects.** In fact, the higher salt meals seemed to really confuse hunger and satiation, driving the subjects to “just eat more.” Additionally, the subjects with the** lowest fat preferences** were clearly driven to eat more fat, when they were fed the high salt versions of the pasta sauce.
Is sodium hiding on your plate?
What does this mean for dinnertime?
In the modern food environments, salt is all around us, from the wide selections of salty, processed foods, to the salt shaker always on the table at home and in restaurants. It’s important to be knowledgeable that many salt-laden foods are also higher calorie, fatty foods, and that these can propel you to eat more. Of course, if your taste buds have already found a preference in mostly greasy foods, you are likely eating very high calorie foods to begin with. So adding salt into the menu, shaking salt on your high fat foods, or choosing salty, fatty foods, you may be concocting a formula for overeating and weight gain (and risk of heart disease).
But we know those cravings are hard to resist. What if you love salty foods?! How can you limit your salt consumption and still satisfy your palate? Consider some healthier snacks that will swap out for your traditional salty, high fat choices, but still satisfy that “salty” taste preference:
- Raw vegetables and low fat bean dip or hummus
- A hard-boiled egg plus smoked paprika
- A shrimp cocktail
- Rice cakes with mango chutney
- Baked crackers and fat free low sodium cottage cheese sprinkled lightly with curry powder
- Water-packed tuna mixed with celery cubes
- Powdered peanut butter (you mix it with water) and a slice of flaxseed bread
- A handful of natural ((unprocessed nuts)
- Air popped popcorn plus dried seasonings
- Low sodium turkey and pickle relish
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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert.As a health media personality, she's been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.