Nutrition Experts Assess Promising Role of Umami Taste in Battle Against Obesity and Malnutrition

By October 23, 2019 News

DUBLIN (17 October 2019) – Nutrition professionals around the world convened in Dublin this month to discuss the latest strategies to address the obesity epidemic. One symposium, sponsored by IGIS, examined the role of umami (one of the five basic tastes, known as the “savory” taste, which comes from glutamate) in light of recent research suggesting that umami not only makes food more appetizing but also increases the feeling of fullness, reducing the desire to overeat.

Recent scientific studies have shown that monosodium glutamate (MSG or E621), the sodium salt of glutamate described as “umami seasoning,” when added to an appetizer or soup prior to a meal can decrease appetite and food intake, especially among individuals with a propensity to overeat and gain weight. The results identify new ways to facilitate healthy eating without decreasing satisfaction with a meal, and reduce food intake.

IGIS Symposium at FENS 2019The symposium was part of the 13th European Nutrition Conference, known as FENS 2019, organized by the Federation of European Nutrition Societies October 15-18 in Dublin, Ireland. The theme for the symposium was “The Importance of Sensory Properties, including Umami and Kokumi Substances, to Promote Healthy Dietary Patterns.”

Experts at the symposium discussed molecular and physiological mechanisms of taste perception, and specifically umami taste perception and umami’s role in regulating appetite.

The Role of Umami Taste in Promoting Healthy and Balanced Diets

Participants learned about the importance of umami taste as it affects food preference, as well as umami’s role in promoting healthy and balanced diets.

FENS 2019 Umami Taste

Umami Symposium speakers welcome the FENS 2019 participants.

One expert speaker at the symposium was Dr. Gabriella Morini, who is Assistant Professor of Taste and Food Sciences at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Pollenzo, Italy). Her session explored how umami food components (such as fermented sauces, cured meats, cheeses) are able to improve the overall palatability of food. She reviewed taste receptors in parts of the body other than the oral cavity, such as in the gastrointestinal tract, where their activation generates responses that can influence important and different functions at a systemic level, from absorption and metabolization of nutrients to a role in appetite, satiety and response to bacteria.

Dr. Gabriella Morini

Dr. Gabriella Morini

Dr. Morini noted, “Taste is like a language, we do in a few seconds a chemical analysis of food signals to detect macronutrients and compounds from plants,” adding that umami seems to act as a fermentation sensor.

Dr. Daniel Tomé, who is the director of the research unit for nutritional physiology and eating behaviour at INRA/AgroParisTech (Paris), focused on the traditional role of glutamate as fuel for the intestinal cells and as a key molecule for many metabolic pathways. Glutamate, an amino acid which is produced in the human body for a variety of essential functions including metabolism of major nutrients such as protein, has an important role in taste preference for protein-rich foods.

Dr. Daniel Tome

Dr. Daniel Tomé

Dr. Tomé explained that 80-90% of the glutamate from the diet is utilized as energy by intestinal cells and does not reach general circulation. Glutamate represents 10-15% in proteins and can be found as a free amino acid in seasonings or fermented foods 1-10%. The microbiota from the gut can also release glutamate, or utilize glutamate to make GABA. This GABA in the colon could potentially modulate visceral responses. Dr. Tomé provided an excellent review of all the functions of glutamate, as a taste substance, as an amino acid that provides energy to the cells of the intestine, and as a very metabolically active molecule that is used in the body to produce so many different key substances necessary to maintain our health. 

Dr. Ciarán Forde

Dr. Ciarán Forde

Dr. Ciarán Forde, who is Senior Principal Investigator in Sensory Nutritional Science, at the Clinical Nutrition Research Center, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, discussed how perceptual responses to a food’s taste, texture and mouthfeel properties can be used to influence eating behaviour and energy intake. For example, umami and kokumi taste signals could be used as a tool to maintain the palatibility of reduced calorie foods and beverages, making low-calorie and low-fat meals more desirable. (Kokumi is described as a “taste enhancer” providing “heartiness” or “mouthfulness”.)

Dr. Forde explained that the sensorial properties of foods, including the umami taste and the effect of kokumi substances such as glutathione, influence our food choices and may help us feel satiated since we are not good at detecting calories, but we do prefer foods with body, thickness or certain texture. This could help us to manipulate the flavors of low calorie and low salt foods for healthier eating.

Dr. Ana San Gabriel, secretariat of the International Glutamate Information Service (IGIS), the organization sponsoring the symposium, summarized the symposium: “Understanding how sensory properties affect healthier food choices and energy intakes will support the development of behavioural and dietary strategies for better management of chronic conditions such as obesity.”

About FENS 2019

FENS 2019The FENS conference is held once every four years, and is the premier European meeting within nutritional science, bringing together nutrition and health professionals from across Europe. 

FENS 2019 explored European perspectives on “malnutrition in an obese world.” As rates of overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases have risen, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies have persisted. With an estimated 2 billion people globally overweight and obese, a further 2 billion suffer from a micronutrient deficiency (source: Global Nutrition Report, 2018).

With the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) aiming to trigger action to eradicate all forms of malnutrition, FENS hopes to foster European collaboration and exchange of ideas, offering nutrition professionals the opportunity to broaden their knowledge on critical issues.

The International Glutamate Information Service (IGIS) is a non-profit organization communicating science-based information about umami, glutamate, and monosodium glutamate (umami seasoning). For more information, visit glutamate.org.

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