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Glutamates can be used to increase intake of food containing novel flavours

7 May 2015

A new study has looked into the possibility of glutamates having a use in increasing consumption of foods containing novel flavours in ageing adults. The study, carried out at the University of Reading, documented the consumption and liking levels of two novel soup flavours, cumin and lemongrass, over a 6 day period. With the issue of undernourishment increasingly affecting older adults in the developed world (thought to be a consequence of the elderly being less receptive to new flavours) this could be a significant finding.

It is well understood that people learn to like new flavours by one of two methods of associative learning; either through flavour-flavour learning (FFL) in which the flavour is paired with a liked taste (e.g. sweetness) or through flavour-consequence learning (FCL) in which the flavour is related to a liked taste of ingested nutrients (e.g. carbohydrates or fats). It is documented that FCL is the main reason behind increased glutamate consumption in its sodium salt form, known as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Glutamate is an amino acid, and is thought to have a possible metabolic role as an intestinal energy source.

The participants consisted of 40 people of mixed gender aged between 65 and 88.  They were each required to consume both soup flavours (lemongrass and cumin) three times a day over a 6 day period.  One flavour of soup contained a high level of MSG (5% w/w). In the preconditioning stage the participants were asked a series of questions based on the soups. For example; could you eat more of this particular soup? How strong is your desire to eat? Would you choose to have this particular soup? The subjects were then sent home and told to consume each flavour of soup on alternate days, noting the time of consumption and any comments they had. They were then tested as per the first experiment, repeating the liking and preference questions.

The results found that the mean consumption of the soups that had been paired with MSG had increased in the subjects, going from 123g in session 1 to 164g in session 8.   The non-MSG soups saw barely any change in consumption levels. Unlike previous studies however, the conditioning the participants experienced did not lead to an increase in liking of the soup flavours.  The increased consumption is thought to have been due to the high sodium content of the MSG paired soups. 

With elderly malnutrition affecting around 60% of over 65’s in care homes and hospitals, this could be a step in the right direction to reducing this problem, and could increase the amount of food the elderly eat in one sitting.

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