12 January - 20 June 2016

Intake of key substance behind umami flavour may influence healthier eating choices

A study published in Neuropyschopharmacology has investigated the effect that a glutamate salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), has on eating behaviours. Glutamate is a naturally-occurring non-essential amino acid, and is known as an integral substance in the taste known as umami; one of the five basic groups alongside bitter, sweet, sour and salty.

A study published in Neuropyschopharmacology has investigated the effect that a glutamate salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), has on eating behaviours. Glutamate is a naturally-occurring non-essential amino acid, and is known as an integral substance in the taste known as umami; one of the five basic groups alongside bitter, sweet, sour and salty.

The study builds upon previous work that showed intake of broths supplemented with MSG showed lowered appetite and food intake. This was particularly seen in women that had been identified as having problems with weight gain, and who tended to overeat. This study, undertaken by Magerowski et al. went further by exploring the underlying mechanisms in the brain. 41 healthy women between the ages of 18 and 30 were selected and given chicken broth to eat, with or without the addition of MSG. The researchers then used three methods to observe changes in the participants. Their self-regulation of eating was monitored with a computer test measuring inhibitory control. They were also given a buffet where they were allowed to freely choose what they ate, with their eye-movements tracked through the wearing of specially-designed glasses. Finally, brain activity was monitored through a functional brain scan as they made their food choices.

The participants who had the MSG-added broth were shown to have greater inhibitory control in the first test. They also had more focused gaze, showed by fewer switches in gaze between plates when eating during the buffet test, when compared with when normal broth was ingested. Participants that had consumed the MSG broth, and had been identified as having a higher risk of obesity, were shown to consume less saturated fat. Brain scans of the MSG broth subjects also showed increased activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a part associated with self-control in decisions on what type of food to eat.

A senior author on the paper, Miguel Alonso-Alonso, MD, PhD, who is an assistant professor at the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine in BIDMC’s Department of Surgery, has said previous studies have used subjective methods to study the effect of umami broths on appetite. In this study, he says; “we extended these findings replicating the beneficial effects of umami on healthy eating in women at higher risk of obesity, and we used new laboratory measures that are sensitive and objective”. He also notes that the effect of savoury taste on the brain has thus far been limited when compared with others such as sweetness.

The scientists add the caveat that the findings are only preliminary so far due to the small sample size and levels of significance. However, the group claims that these are the first results investigating “the effects of glutamate (MSG) on cognitive executive processes that are relevant for the support of healthy eating behaviors and food choice”.  Further, they add that “they also extend our understanding of how this umami substance may influence energy balance”.

RSSL food flavour analysis capabilities enable us to support you in food product development and troubleshooting. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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