You just had lunch an hour ago and are already rummaging through your desk drawer looking for a snack bar. Or, 30 minutes after you eat a whole plate of Chinese food, you’re back in the kitchen looking for something else to eat. Yep, those old jokes are all too true—but why? According to two new papers published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the cause of your hunger could come down to one sneaky source: salt.
The studies show that a saltier diet boosts appetite and actually decreases thirst, contradicting more than 100 years of conventional wisdom. Although, obviously, it can make you thirstier in the short term (just ask a bartender).
“If you put salted peanuts down in front of your customers, they’re absolutely going to consume more drinks,” says Jens Titze, MD, the senior author of one of the studies, which tracked the habits of Russian cosmonauts for months at a time, Time reports. “But our research showed that, over several months and even over 24 hours, they’re going to conserve more water and actually consume less.”
What did they want more of, though? Food. The cosmonauts were given the same amount of calories and nutrients each day, but when they ate saltier food, they reported feeling hungrier. Dr. Titze theorizes that it’s because it takes extra energy for the body to conserve water.
So what does all this new intel mean for your eating habits? If you stick to the 1:1 rule (where the amount of sodium in milligrams is equal to or less than the calories per serving), your salt intake won’t cause you to be ravenous all the time. That way, you’ll know those hunger pains are actually legit.