For a new study, researchers asked one group of women to eat a broth with monosodium glutamate (MSG) before a meal while the other half had a version without the additive. They found that those who ate the MSG broth were less likely to overeat than the women in the other group. The results may hold true for men as well.
People taste umami through certain receptors that respond to glutamate, a natural flavor-enhancing compound. There’s lots of controversy surrounding MSG, but you’ll find glutamate in other foods like fish, cured meats, vegetables, and green tea; fermented ingredients like kimchi, miso, and soy sauce; and aged products like Parmesan cheese. The flavor profile is often described as meaty or brothy.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly how the umami taste encourages healthier choices. It might affect the taste receptors or the vagus nerve, which conveys information from the stomach to the brain, in ways that help you control your eating, says study author Miguel Alonso-Alonso, MD, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory of Bariatric and Nutritional Neuroscience at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
While this study looked only at women and MSG, Alonso-Alonso says priming your palate with other glutamate-containing foods before your meal might also help you control your food intake.