The preliminary randomised trial data suggests that people with high blood pressure prefer and consume more salt than those with normal blood pressure levels - suggesting that those with high blood pressure (hypertension) may be 'salt-seeking'.
The double-blind experiment was led by Patricia Villela from the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil, who noted that although the relationship between high salt intake and high blood pressure (hypertension) is well established, and it is known that the salt consumption in the world population is higher than it is recommended, very few studies have demonstrated a preference for salty foods in hypertensive individuals.
By examining how healthy (non-hypertensive) and hypertensive older and young people selected bread samples with varying concentrations of salt, the team were able to identify a trend towards those with higher blood pressure preferring higher levels of salt.
"There was a predominance of preference for saltier sample in both groups of hypertensive individuals," wrote the team - adding that the non-hypertensive individuals preferred either a medium salted or low salts sample.
In a further test Villela and her team also tested how the addition of herbs and spices effects this preference - finding that all participants chose bread samples with lower salt levels when oregano was added to it.
"In hypertensive individuals there was a shift for samples with smaller concentrations of salt," they explained.
However, Domenic Sica, American Society of Hypertension (ASH) president-elect, warned that further research is needed before being able to come to a definitive conclusion about salt preferences among people with high blood pressure.
"This trial did not set out to determine if there is cause and effect," he noted. "At this time, it's simply an association that needs to be further clarified in larger studies, with a more rigorous trial design."
However, Sica added that the study does raise the interesting notion that "there may be an acquired tendency [or trait towards] a desire for more salt."
Villela and her team randomised 118 people into four groups. Two groups included men and women in their 30s with or without high blood pressure, while another two groups included older people in their 70s, either with or without high blood pressure.
All participants were initially offered three different French bread options. Each contained a different amount of added salt -- some breads were much saltier than others.
The team reported that none of the healthy participants - those without high blood pressure concerns - showed a preference for the highly salted bread. Instead, the older healthy group preferred 'medium salty' bread and the younger healthy group went for the 'lightly salted' option.
By contrast, people with high blood pressure in both age groups favoured the 'highly salted' bread option.
During a second phase of the experiment, conducted two weeks later, all the participants were again randomly offered the same three bread and salt combinations. However, in this case all the breads were also seasoned with oregano - a naturally salt-free spice. The result: this time around all four groups showed at least some shift in preference, choosing breads that were less salty than their previous choices.
Villela and her colleagues concluded that high blood pressure patients do seem to have a taste for saltier foods. However, they believe such preferences can be overcome by seasoning foods with non-salt alternatives such as oregano.
The study was presented at the American Society of Hypertension (ASH) annual meeting, and the abstract is available via the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension