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Adding MSG to nutritious foods without adding salt 'could encourage healthier eating habits'

Putting MSG in grains and vegetables will improve the flavour and encourage healthier eating as people won’t add as much salt to their food, researchers claim.

A new study by researchers from the University of California, Davis, investigated the impact of substituting salt for MSG (or umami seasoning) can have on eating habits.

They found it can be used to significantly reduce sodium while also promoting the enjoyment of better-for-you foods like grains and vegetables.

Researchers claim people consume too much salt and have misperceptions about the taste of nutritious foods – creating a barrier to healthy eating. 

In the study volunteers tasted four recipes where salt was reduced by adding MSG and dishes were described as ‘flavourful’, ‘delicious’, and ‘balanced’.

A new study by researchers from the University of California, Davis, investigated the impact of substituting salt for MSG (or umami seasoning) can have on eating habits

A new study by researchers from the University of California, Davis, investigated the impact of substituting salt for MSG (or umami seasoning) can have on eating habits

‘Just as the substitution of butter with olive oil can help reduce saturated fat intake, MSG can be used as a replacement for salt,’ says study author Jean-Xavier Guinard.

The professor of sensory science at the University of California, Davis said MSG has two thirds less sodium than table salt and imparts the savoury umami taste. 

‘Taste is a key factor in what people decide to eat,’ the author explained.

‘Using MSG as a replacement for some salt in the diet and to increase the appeal of nutritious foods can help make healthy eating easier.’

Culinary scientists from Pilot R&D, a food innovation and development company, developed four dishes that had between 31 and 61 per cent reduced salt.

The experimental dishes prepared by the team were roasted vegetables, a quinoa bowl, a savoury yogurt dip, and cauliflower fried rice with pork.  

There were 163 volunteers aged 18-62 involved in the study and they eat three different versions of each dish with varying levels of sodium.

The volunteers consumed a standard recipe with typical salt content, a reduced salt recipe with significant sodium reduction, and the same reduced salt recipe with significant sodium reduction plus MSG added. 

For each dish, participants rated overall liking, appearance, flavour, texture, saltiness, aftertaste, and how likely they would be to order the dish at a restaurant. 

Reduced salt recipes with added MSG were liked as much or better than standard recipes, suggesting MSG can be used to cut salt without compromising taste. 

Volunteers rated the quinoa bowl and savoury yogurt dip with added MSG better than the original higher salt version of the dish. 

Whereas the reduced salt recipes were commonly described as ‘bland’ and the standard recipes described as ‘salty’ and ‘sour’ in some cases, the MSG recipes were associated with ‘delicious,’ ‘flavourful,’ ‘balanced,’ and ‘savoury’ in some instances.

Previous research has shown that MSG can be used to reduce sodium by 30 per cent, and in some cases up to 50 per cent.

That happens in packaged foods and snacks such as soups, broths, chips, and sausage, without compromising taste and consumer preference for the products. 

For the first time, this study shows promise for using MSG in better-for-you foods, or those with a desirable nutritional profile that consumers should be eating more of.

They found MSG can be used to significantly reduce sodium while also promoting the enjoyment of better-for-you foods like grains and vegetables. Stock image

They found MSG can be used to significantly reduce sodium while also promoting the enjoyment of better-for-you foods like grains and vegetables. Stock image

‘Extensive scientific research confirms MSG’s safety, and now we see a benefit of using it to improve the flavour of nutritious foods,’ says Guinard. 

‘Survey results from our study show that many people are not aware of how to use MSG in their own cooking. 

‘The easiest place to start is to replace half of the salt in your salt shaker with MSG, or if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of salt, try half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of MSG, instead – and of course, savour the flavour.’

As with any study, limitations should be considered, according to the researchers.

The study could have included many more versions of the recipes with varying levels of salt and MSG to optimise results.  

The study has been published in the Journal of Food Science

MSG IS A FLAVOUR ENHANCER THAT COMES FROM SEAWEED

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancer derived from seaweed that is frequently used in takeaways and fast-food restaurants.

The food additive is also often added to stock cubes, ready meals and crisps.

Studies have suggested MSG, which is also known as ‘hydrolyzed protein’ and ‘autolyzed yeast extract’, crosses the blood brain barrier where it overstimulates receptors.

This can result in their death and has been linked to chronic pain. 

Studies have also implied MSG causes brain damage when injected into young mice.  

Premature death also occurs when the food additive is given to fruit flies.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US requires MSG be listed on relevant food labels despite classifying the ingredient as being ‘generally recognized as safe’. 

This is due to reports of people experiencing headache, sweating, facial tightness, heart palpitations and nausea after consuming the flavour enhancer.

Restaurants and takeaways are not obligated to declare the amount of MSG they add to food. 

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