Savory Foods and Weight LossIt’s no question that sugary cereals aren’t exactly the best breakfast food choice, no matter how much it calls back to childhood. Yet a recent study, published by the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, reveals the potential for starting your day with savory (a.k.a., umami) foods to influence what you eat for the rest of the day. Essentially, starting with savory allows you to maintain the self-control needed to make proper food choices.

What the Study Discovered

A team from Harvard Medical School in Boston wanted to clarify the findings of a previous study by conducting a similar study under controlled laboratory conditions. They worked with a group of women at risk of overeating and obesity and had them drink a small amount of broth (roughly one cup) before several tests, including eating food from a buffet. Some of the women had broth with MSG, a big source of umami flavor, while the control group had MSG-free broth. Each woman had to complete a computer test to assess inhibitory control (i.e., ability to resist certain behavioral responses regarding food), had to wear portable eye tracking equipment throughout the buffet meal, and were subject to functional neuroimaging, which tracked brain activity as they made their choices.

Why MSG?

Although the use of MSG (monosodium glutamate) is considered controversial in some circles, research has yet to find a definitive link between ingesting MSG and the adverse reactions some people experience when eating foods containing it (e.g., headache, flushing, somewhat elevated heart rate). These reactions are always short and rarely require treatment of any kind. Thus, it’s recognized as a generally safe food that some people may want to abstain from to avoid discomfort. None of the women given MSG broth had adverse reactions. (via Mayo Clinic)

The Results

Across all three key measurements, the women given broth with MSG showed more self-control and more focus on choosing healthier options. Women who had poor control over eating showed the most improvement in inhibitory control with the MSG broth, and what’s more, they showed a lower intake of saturated fats during the buffet. In the group, the rate of fixation switches between plates was much lower than the group that had MSG-free broth. Most importantly, women that had MSG broth experienced an increased engagement in a part of the brain recently recognized to have a close association with positive self-control when making dietary decisions.

What This Means for Healthy Habits and Weight Loss

It should be noted that these results are preliminary, and the research group hopes that their study will spur on further research regarding the role of savory flavors activating dietary control. In a broad sense, however, it seems that umami-heavy foods can make it easier to focus on making the right choices about what to eat and avoid foods that will make it harder to lose weight and stay healthy. Given the emphasis of the study on having savory flavors first, starting your day with an umami-heavy breakfast may help you better control your eating and improve the way you stick to your weight loss plan.

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