Umami May Help You Eat Less

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Sweet, salty, sour, and bitter are very common tastes, but did you know that there is a fifth one? Umami—the savory “fifth taste”—is gaining in popularity, and to create this taste, monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer long thought of in the U.S. as evil, is used. And surprisingly umami may enhance appetite and also increase satiety, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Nutrition.

Twenty-six participants were given around two cups of a low-calorie soup or a high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, high-protein soup both with and without the addition of an MSG-enzyme combination. The soup was consumed after having an identical breakfast and before lunch on four nonconsecutive days. The researchers found that subsequent intake at lunch was reduced with the addition of the MSG-enzyme regardless of the energy amount in the soup. The high-carb, high-protein soup also reduced intake without the MSG, and the addition of the MSG-enzyme increased appetite for the soup itself overall.

If the idea of using MSG to help control appetite makes you hesitate, it should. We all are probably most familiar with MSG as an additive in Chinese food, but it can also be found in canned soups, processed meats, and various frozen foods. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's "generally recognized as safe," many individuals report terrible side effects such as headaches, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness in the face, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and weakness when ingesting it. And it seems to me wherever MSG is present, lots of sodium is too.

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I think what is important from the study are the results that showed the high-protein and high-carbohydrate soup controlled subsequent intake. I am always recommending to my patients that their meals and snacks be balanced, which means they include fiber, fat, and protein, to aid in satiety. Furthermore, soup before a meal has long been known to be a great way to help with portion control. Just the other night I had an avocado and cucumber soup as an appetizer, which definitely helped me to consume less of the delicious French fries placed in front of me.

Umami might be a wonderful taste, but I’m not about to jump on the bandwagon just yet.

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