Nutritionists recommend that we reduce our intake of sodium and fat. However, removing the sodium or fat in foods makes it difficult to maintain an acceptable flavor balance to keep the food from tasting bland.
Many of us consume more salty or high fat foods than our bodies need. The taste of salt added to food and the richness of high fat dishes are undoubtedly appealing. Scientific research, however, has suggested a link between diets high in fat and sodium and health risks such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) can be very useful here. MSG has two-thirds less sodium than table salt, and it is used at far lower levels. Using a small amount of monosodium glutamate in a low sodium product can make it taste as good as its high salt counterpart.
Research has shown that people who need to reduce sodium find foods with low levels of salt much more acceptable when a small amount of monosodium glutamate is added.
Using MSG to Reduce Sodium and Maintain Good Taste
A study published in the Journal of Food Science evaluated people’s responses to different versions of a clear soup, with and without MSG and with different levels of salt (as shown in the graph). When the use of NaCl alone was reduced from its optimal level of about 0.92%, the palatability score of the soup decreased dramatically. However, by combining 0.38% MSG with 0.41% NaCl, the palatability rating of the soup recovered to the same level of pleasantness as was achieved by 0.92% NaCl alone.
The sodium content of the soup with 0.92% NaCl was 0.36%, compared with 0.21% in the soup with 0.38% MSG and 0.41% NaCl, representing a 40% overall sodium reduction.
(Ref.: Yamaguchi, S. and Takahashi, C., Journal of Food Science, 49: 82–85. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.1984.tb13675.x)
More recent research, “Reduction of Sodium Content in Spicy Soups Using Monosodium Glutamate,” was published in the June 2016 Food and Nutrition Research journal. The researchers concluded that “low-sodium soups can be developed by the addition of appropriate amounts of MSG, while maintaining the acceptability of the spicy soups. It was also shown that it is feasible to reduce sodium intake by replacing salt (sodium chloride/NaCl) with MSG.”
The study authors noted: “Soup is a common food that is majorly consumed all over the world. It is therefore essential to control the consumption level of NaCl in soups, in order to save consumers from the consequential health problems. Replacing NaCl with MSG in soup can contribute to better human health.”
In this study, the researchers made several important conclusions related to sodium intake and how MSG can be beneficial in this regard:
- Reducing sodium intake is strongly recommended in many countries around the world, and various programs have been introduced in different countries to achieve gradual and sustained reductions in the amount of salt added to foods.
- Reducing the salt (NaCl/sodium chloride) content of foods may diminish their palatability.
- It is important to find an appropriate replacement (even if a partial replacement) and its optimum levels which can reduce the salt content of foods without any negative effect on their palatability.
- MSG has been suggested as a good flavor enhancer in low salt products that would not substantially increase the total sodium content of the product.
- The aim of the present study was to reduce sodium in spicy soups using MSG while maintaining their palatability.
- The sodium reduction in the “test” soups was performed by developing different formulations and monitoring: 1) the effect of the level of spiciness on umami and saltiness of spicy soups, and 2) the effect of MSG and salt levels on the umami taste of spicy soups and sodium reduction.
- The addition of MSG made it possible to reduce the salt concentration without affecting the pleasantness, saltiness, or taste intensity of the soups.
- Researchers determined that a 32.5% reduction in sodium level was made feasible by adding 0.7% MSG to the spicy soups.
- Previous studies that examined the interaction of salt and MSG in different types of soups also showed that it is possible to reduce sodium levels by substituting salt with MSG while maintaining good taste.
Read more about the usefulness of MSG in a reduced sodium diet.
Download (PDF) Quick Facts: Advantages of Glutamate in Reducing Sodium Intake.
Other Recent Research:
- “Can umami taste be an adequate tool for reducing sodium in food preparations?,” published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology (April 2021). The researchers investigated the effect of MSG on sodium reduction using rice and meat samples in 103 subjects. This study demonstrated a sodium reduction of at least 30% in rice and 33% in ground meat, two kinds of meals widely consumed in Brazil, while maintaining the same level of acceptance of those foods.
- A recent study published in the Journal of Food Science (August 2020) suggests MSG can be used to significantly reduce sodium while also promoting the enjoyment of better-for-you foods like grains and vegetables. The researchers concluded, “The Salt Flip [in which sodium was reduced by 31 to 61 percent through the addition of MSG] offers a promising dietary sodium reduction strategy through the addition of monosodium glutamate (MSG) to reduced‐salt, savory, better‐for‐you foods that does not compromise consumer acceptance of their sensory profile.”
- Comprehensive research, published in the journal Nutrients (November 2019), showed that glutamates such as monosodium glutamate can be used to significantly reduce sodium in the food supply, especially in the saltiest food categories.
- “Monosodium glutamate as a tool to reduce sodium in foodstuffs: Technological and safety aspects,” published in Food Science & Nutrition (July 2017). This review paper discusses salty and umami taste physiology, the potential applications of MSG use to reduce sodium content in specific industrialized foods, and safety aspects of MSG as a food additive. PDF version.
- “Optimization of Low Sodium Salts Mix for Shoestring Potatoes,” published in the Journal of Food Science (June 2015). The scientists stated: “Sodium chloride has several important functions in the food, influencing their sensory characteristics, functional properties, and microbiological safety. Thereby reducing sodium in processed foods becomes a major challenge. From this work it was verified that the use of salts mix of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and monosodium glutamate is a relevant alternative to reduce the sodium content of foods, making them healthier and maintaining its sensory quality.”