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

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Sep;43(10):2009-2016. doi: 10.1038/s41386-018-0044-6. Epub 2018 Mar 30.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Choice Behavior
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology
  • Eating
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food Additives
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Sodium Glutamate / pharmacology
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Fats
  • Food Additives
  • Sodium Glutamate