How Savory Food Can Help Promote Healthy Eating

Eaters of the world are often divided into a few different categories: Those who love sweet, those who choose salty, and those who desire foods on the savory side. But in healthy eating news, savory (or savoury) foods may promote healthier habits above all tastes.

Savor the Flavor for Healthier Eating

A report from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center proposes savory foods may promote healthy eating through effects on the brain. The report further details, “consuming a broth rich in umami—or savory taste—can cause subtle changes in the brain that promote healthy eating behaviors and food choices, especially in women at risk of obesity.”

But wait, u-mam-what?

Ew-ma-mee. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines umami as “a taste found in some foods that is neither sweet, sour, bitter nor salty.” Besides, a Japanese professor discovered umami, in which he recognized a Japanese soup tasted neither sweet, sour, bitter nor salty.

Okay, “then what does it taste like?” you may ask. Chefs and foodies alike describe the fifth basic taste as savory and characteristic of broth and meat. According to the Umami Information Center, umami is “a general term used mainly for substances combining the amino acid glutamate, and/or the nucleotides inosinate and guanylate.”

Umami is found widely in the food supply, including being sourced from cured meat, fish, aged cheese, tomato, and mushroom. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), soy sauce, and other flavor enhancers and condiments produced from grain, fish sauce, and cheese are excellent sources of umami.

But back to healthy eating news…

Researchers of the study published in Neuropsychopharmacology evaluated changes in the brains of healthy young women after consuming chicken broth with or without MSG added. They used three lab tools:

1. A computer test that measured inhibitory control (a key mental process necessary for self-regulation of eating). 
2. A buffet meal, in which participants ate freely while wearing special glasses that tracked eye movements.
3. A functional brain scan that measured brain activity while participants made food choices.

Following intake of the umami-rich broth, participants performed the inhibitory control test better, had more focused gazes during the meal, and had more engagement of a brain area that is linked to successful self-regulation during food choice. Also, after consuming the umami-rich broth, those at higher risk of obesity consumed less saturated fat during the meal.

Furthermore, “Many cultures around the world advocate drinking a broth before a meal. 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,” said senior author Miguel Alonso-Alonso, MD, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine in BIDMC’s Department of Surgery, BIDMC.

This also adds to the research conducted by Penn State University, which shows consuming a low-calorie soup before the main entree can help cut total caloric intake by 20 percent!

Additional Explanations

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library (ANDEAL) examined the science between umami and healthy eating habits, which may be related to the following:

Promoting Digestion

Sensing glutamate on the tongue, stomach, and intestine triggers the secretion of saliva and digestive juices, which facilitates the smooth digestion of protein. Umami’s role in digestion has become a novel approach for potentially promoting chewing and swallowing of food in elderly population.

Reducing the Need for Added Salt

High-salt diets are linked to hypertension and potential consequences of fluctuating and elevated blood pressures, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, stroke, heart failure, and dementia. Using MSG and soy sauce contain lesser amounts of sodium than table salt, which postulates a lower need for sodium in cooking.

Affecting Appetite

Though inconclusive, adding umami to foods may affect appetite. More specifically, umami has the potential to influence food intake, sensations of hunger and fullness, and the liking and acceptability of food.

Improving Nutritional Status

Given the history of umami promoting digestion and reducing salt need, savory foods may improve nutritional status. There is some evidence indicating a significant increase in calcium and magnesium levels when MSG was present in soups and vegetables, along with reduction of fat and carb intake.

Influencing Energy Intake

While six out of nine studies concluded no significant difference in total energy intake from foods with umami additives, two reported an increase in immediate energy intake following the consumption of either soup and vegetables or a high-protein meal, respectively, with umami additives due to flavor enhancement. Another study showed a slight decrease in total energy intake from snack foods following a preload of MSG from broth.

While healthy eating habits for men and women is much more than eating only savory foods, the evidence regarding the fifth basic taste is nonetheless compelling. Savor the flavor in your diet by:

  • Cooking aged meats with veggies, including Brussel sprouts and bacon
  • Adding parmesan cheese, including letting a hunk simmer into chicken stock or sprinkling onto soups, pastas, salads, casseroles, and, well, just about anything
  • Grinding shiitake mushrooms and sprinkle onto foods
  • Choosing seeded, ripe tomatoes
  • Adding umami-rich sauces, including soy and fish sauces, to vegetables and other dishes
  • Speaking of soy sauce… Try out other soy-based products, including tofu and miso
  • Embracing pickled products such as sauerkraut and kimchee

All-in-all, experimenting with savory foods and the flavor of umami is a nutritious and delicious way to switch up variety. Furthermore, umami and savory flavors tend to come from healthy foods women and men can incorporate into a balanced diet!