When you get the munchies, it’s easy to overdo it and wreak havoc on your waistline. But a new study shows that if you down a bowl of savory miso soup before pigging out, you might be inclined to make healthier choices.
The study examined the effect of 'umami,' a Japanese term for a rich, savory flavor, on brain activity and food choices. Umami is one of the five basic flavors, along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.
One of the key creators of the umami flavor is the amino acid glutamate, as found naturally in fish and other foods, or unnaturally in added MSG (monosodium glutamate)
The study found that, especially for women, drinking a bowl of chicken broth that had added MSG caused subtle changes in their brains that contributed to them making healthier eating choices afterward.
The researchers - out of Harvard University - used three tests to determine this: a computer test that measured inhibitory control, a buffet meal with eye tracking glasses, and a brain scan.
After drinking the broth, subjects did better on the inhibition control test, focused their gazes more during the buffet, and their brain areas responsible for self-regulation lit up more. This translated into real-world action as well: during the buffet, they were less likely to choose foods loaded with saturated fats.
Senior author Dr. Miguel Alonso-Alonso says that the results may open new ways to facilitate healthy eating and reduce food intake in the general population.
"Many cultures around the world advocate drinking a broth before a meal," said Alonso-Alonso. "Our study suggests the possibility that people at high risk of obesity could benefit from an umami-rich broth before a meal to facilitate healthy eating and healthy food choice."
So next time you get the munchies consider swinging by your favorite ramen shop.