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Neurocognitive effects of umami: association with eating behavior and food choice

Neuropsychopharmacology (2018) | Download Citation


Free glutamate, a key substance underlying the umami taste of foods, fulfills a number of physiological functions related to energy balance. Previous experimental studies have shown that intake of a broth or soup supplemented with monosodium glutamate (MSG) prior to a meal can decrease appetite and food intake, particularly in women with propensity to overeat and gain weight. In this study, we examined potential neurocognitive mechanisms underlying this effect. We evaluated changes after intake of a chicken broth with or without MSG added (MSG+/MSG−) in a sample of healthy young women. Subjects were assessed with a food-modified computerized inhibitory control task, a buffet meal test with eye-tracking, and brain responses during a food choice paradigm evaluated with functional neuroimaging. We found evidence for improvement in key parameters related to inhibitory control following intake of the MSG+ broth, particularly in subjects with high levels of eating disinhibition, who also showed lower intake of saturated fat during the meal. Additionally, consumption of the MSG+ broth led to a reduction of the rate of fixation switches between plates at the meal, and increased engagement of a brain region in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex previously associated with successful self-control during dietary decisions. Altogether, these results, while preliminary, suggest potential facilitating effects of glutamate (MSG) on cognitive executive processes that are relevant for the support of healthy eating behaviors and food choice.

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We thank kitchen and nurse support personnel from the Clinical Research Center of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and technical assistant and advice from Dr. Ron Killiany and Andrew Ellison from the Center for Biomedical Imaging, Boston University Medical Center. We thank all participants who took part in this study for their time and help. This study was supported by a grant from Ajinomoto Inc., which had no role in the design, analysis or writing of this article, and the Harvard Catalyst/Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (8UL1TR000170-05 and 1UL1 TR001102-01).

Author information


  1. Laboratory of Bariatric and Nutritional Neuroscience, Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine, Department of Surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Greta Magerowski
    • , Gabrielle Giacona
    • , Laura Patriarca
    • , Konstantinos Papadopoulos
    •  & Miguel Alonso-Alonso
  2. Harvard-Thorndike Clinical Research Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Paola Garza-Naveda
    •  & Joanna Radziejowska


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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Miguel Alonso-Alonso.

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