If you’re fighting the flab and finding it hard to shed the kilos, your taste in food could be playing a role in your weight – particularly if you’re a woman.
In fact, switching from sweet to savoury foods could be your saviour when it comes losing weight. That’s because eating savoury foods can cause small changes in the brain that promote healthier eating habits, researchers from Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have found.
Favouring foods that are ‘umami’ – the Japanese word used to express a delicious, but not necessarily salty, savoury meal – could hold the key to why some people are more successful when it comes to slimming down. Researchers believe the non-essential amino acid known as glutamate is what gives umami its easily identifiable but difficult to describe taste It’s found in almost all foods, but is more common in high-protein foods such as dairy products, fish and meats.
Previous studies found people who consumed a broth or soup containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) before a meal actually decreased their appetite, with women who tended to overeat or gain weight responding the most to having the broth.
The new study, published in the Nature Neuropsychopharmacology Journal, involved three stages. The first, a computer test, was used to measure inhibitory control and the key mental process that occurs when people are eating. The second was a buffet meal where participants ate whatever they wanted while wearing glasses that tracked their eye movements, while the third was a functional brain scan that measured brain activity whenever people made food choices.
It was discovered participants who consumed a umami-rich broth ate less saturated fat during their meal, as well as performing better on their computer test in terms of being able to inhibit their impulse to consume more food.
“Previous research in humans studied the effects of umami broths on appetite, which is typically assessed with subjective measures,” senior author Miguel Alonso-Alonso explained. “Here, 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.”
Previous studies also measured the effects of sugar and sweetness on the brain, but this is one of the first studies to assess savoury tastes. There are now hopes the findings could reshape the way people look at food and how it is consumed.
“Many cultures around the world advocate drinking a broth before a meal,” Alonso-Alonso said. “Our study suggests the possibility that people at high risk of obesity could benefit from an umami-rich broth before a meal to facilitate healthy eating and healthy food choice.
“Future research should address whether these observed changes can accumulate and affect food intake over time and/or whether they can be leveraged to help people lose weight more successfully.”
It should be noted that some people experience unpleasant side-effects when they do consume MSG. This can include anything from headaches to flushing and sweating to more serious health concerns including chest pains, heart palpitations and numbness in the face.
If attempting to lose weight, it’s always important to chat with a GP, dietitian or health professional to set up a plan that will work with your health and lifestyle.