Stash the Shaker: Too Much Salt Could Increase Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk

New research suggests that sprinkling extra table salt on your meals could play a part in your risk for . The study showed that people who frequently added salt to their meals were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who rarely or never salted their food.

It’s well-known that limiting your intake of salt can help prevent heart disease and , but the new study “shows for the first time that taking the salt shaker off the table can help prevent type 2 diabetes as well,” , lead author of the study, HCA Regents Distinguished Chair, and a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told Verywell.

The study falls short of saying sodium itself can diabetes Rather, researchers noticed that people who said they “sometimes,” “usually,” or “always” salted their food had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 11%, 18%, and 28%, respectively. People in the salt-adding groups who also had a higher body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio seem to be at an even higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Qi and his research team think the findings could support interventions to help people lower their sodium intake and, perhaps, lower their diabetes risk. Here’s how to start cutting back.

Experts who were not involved in the study say that salt itself may not be causing type 2 diabetes; rather, it could be how sodium influences dietary habits.

For example, salt encourages people to eat more. If people eat more than they need to, they may gain weight. If people gain weight, they have a higher or —known .

“We know that increased salt intake increases appetite and, therefore, more macronutrient intake, leading to increased calorie intake and weight gain, which leads to increased incidence resistance,” , an endocrinologist at , told Verywell.

Qi agreed, adding that salt makes food taste better. Yummier food tends to make people want more of it or larger portions. Over time, these habits can lead to a higher body fat percentage and, in turn, a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

"We analyzed, and our data suggest that higher adiposity related to adding salt might partly account for the associations,” said Qi.

The research findings don’t show a clear cause-and-effect relationship between salt and diabetes, and researchers know there are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes that have to be taken into account.

As Nunez said, the “potential association or link is not as strong as, for example, and obesity, which are far stronger links” to type 2 diabetes risk.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that adults limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day—about 1 teaspoon of table salt.

How can you tell if you’re eating too much salt? Start by paying attention to how often you’re salting your food.

“If you’re using the salt shaker more than once a day, you’re likely consuming more salt than you ought to be,” said Nunez. “The same goes for products such as regular ketchup, which typically has a high sodium chloride (salt) concentration.”

Frequently eating packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods can be another indicator that your salt intake is excessive. If it is, you wouldn’t be alone—more than 70% of the sodium Americans consume comes from these sources.

If you’re thinking about eating less salt, Nunez said your best bet is to talk to your healthcare provider or a certified nutritionist. They can make recommendations for you that align with your dietary needs and health goals.

In terms of taste, it’s difficult to replicate regular table salt (sodium chloride). However, Nunez said there are plenty of alternatives you can explore to flavor your food.

For example, try seasoning your food with garlic, ground black pepper, lemon juice or zest, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, paprika, onions, and various herbs and spices, such as rosemary, thyme, cumin, turmeric, oregano, cumin, mint, and basil. You can use these salt alternatives for a variety of meals, like pasta, fish, shrimp, meats, and vegetables.