Being diagnosed with high blood pressure is one clear sign that you may be overdoing it on the salt. But that's not the only downside of a sodium-laden diet.
Turns out, even a few supersalty meals can leave you feeling weird—or even downright uncomfortable. Here are 5 surprising short-term symptoms that can happen when you go crazy with the salt shaker, and what to do about them. (Heal your whole body with Rodale's 12-day liver detox for total body health.)
You haven't gained any weight, so why does the band you've worn on your finger forever suddenly feel two sizes too small? Chances are, your sausage fingers are caused by water retention, which can happen when you load up on salt.
"Our bodies are complex machines that must maintain a balance of fluids and electrolytes," says Dr. Mehran Movassaghi of Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Take in too much sodium, and your brain triggers the release of hormones that tell your body to hold on to as much water as possible in an attempt to keep things from getting too out of whack.
Feel like you just ate a bunch of cotton balls? Yep, it might be salt's fault. After loading up on sodium-heavy food (keep away from these 15 high-sodium foods), your body starts to sense that your salt and water levels are off kilter. To get things back to normal, you need to take in more water, says Movassaghi. As a result, your brain sends out thirst signals, which prompt you to start guzzling.
You might not think those salty chips you chowed down have anything to do with your throbbing headache. But research suggests otherwise: Adults who ate 3,500 mg of sodium per day had nearly a third more headaches than those who only took in 1,500 mg, found a study published in the BMJ.
There's a strong link between high blood pressure and headaches. But heavy salt eaters in this study were more likely to get headaches even if their blood pressure was normal. Experts aren't sure why, but the takeaway is clear: If your head feels like it's ready to explode, try cutting back on the salt.
Drinking too much water isn't the only thing that can make you have to pee nonstop. Surprisingly, eating too much salt can have the same effect. When you devour sodium-heavy fare, your kidneys have to work overtime to clear out the extra salt. So you end up peeing more than usual, says Movassaghi.
Going crazy with the salt shaker can leave you dehydrated. And when you're dehydrated, your ability to think clearly can start to plummet. When women were mildly dehydrated, they performed worse on cognitive tests measuring concentration, memory, reasoning, and reaction time, compared with when they were adequately hydrated, found one Journal of Nutrition study. The dehydration sent their moods plummeting, too.
No matter what salty symptoms you're dealing with, the solution is usually the same. Slash your sodium by cutting back on processed foods, and drink more water! "This allows your body to catch up and get back into balance," Movassaghi says. Once you're back to normal, try to keep your salt intake under control. The US dietary guidelines recommend eating less than 2,300 mg per day.