Skip to main content

Umami and Nutrition Go Hand in Hand

By March 10, 2018March 29th, 2019Featured, MSG, The Umami Connection
MSG in foods

March is a time for new beginnings since winter is nearly over and spring flowers are starting to bud (at least they are in some parts of the U.S.). Perhaps it also is the time when you think about shedding those winter coats and turn to a healthier lifestyle as warmer weather approaches. Well, you’re not alone.

As the headline of this blog says, umami and nutrition go hand in hand and March is not the only month when umami and nutrition work in harmony. March is National Nutrition Month® – a “nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.” The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

So let’s talk nutrition, especially how umami can be beneficial for overall health and specifically how monosodium glutamate (MSG) can help reduce the sodium in your diet. If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know how umami and MSG can help in this respect, but for those of you who are new here or for those who might need a reminder, we have taken highlights from several of our blogs that discuss this topic.

1) Since we have already mentioned the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), let’s re-visit a blog about an MSG/umami presentation at their 2017 annual conference. Chef Chris Koetke prepared and distributed samples of beef broth to AND conference attendees, with each of the three sets of broth made with varying amounts of seasoning. Tasting the three different broths allowed the audience to truly compare the flavor impact MSG provides. The audiences nearly unanimously favored the third broth made with the least amount of salt but had some added MSG. This demonstrated to those in attendance that MSG can be used effectively to reduce salt in recipes, with no loss in palatability.


2) The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension program (aka the “DASH diet”) was developed by the U.S. government’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the American Heart Association to be a balanced eating plan. One of the primary recommendations from this program is that consumers should lower dietary sodium intake. Unfortunately, many of us believe that by lowering sodium we are giving up tasty food and that the lower sodium food will be bland. However, a great “secret” to still enjoying foods with less sodium is to replace part of the salt in favorite recipes with MSG. By way of comparison, MSG contains about 12 percent sodium while table salt contains 39 percent sodium. In fact, when MSG is used in combination with a small amount of table salt, it can reduce the total sodium in a recipe by 20 to 40 percent – while still maintaining the desired flavor.


3) Obviously, what we eat plays an important role in our health, but let’s face it, taste is the driving factor in food selection. Therefore, our ability to taste food is central to our consumption of a nourishing diet that contributes to overall health and well-being. When food doesn’t taste good, we don’t want to eat it. No doubt you’ve experienced this first-hand when you’ve had a cold and cannot taste your food—there’s very little that appeals to you—perhaps even Mom’s homemade chicken soup. For some people, that lack of taste ability doesn’t go away. In older people, for example, there is a documented reduction in the ability to taste the full range of the five basic tastes. Time and time again, it has been shown that adding some MSG to savory foods can boost the umami level and make the food more delicious.


4) The ability to taste umami in food could be beneficial for overall health, particularly in older people, Japanese researchers suggest. In a recent study, published in the journal Flavour, scientists from Tohoku University Graduate School of Dentistry in Japan developed an umami taste sensitivity test and used it on 44 elderly patients. The taste tests revealed that the elderly patients who had lost their taste for umami also complained of appetite and weight loss. They also noted that those who had problems tasting umami complained that food was no longer palatable and they were not eating normally. “Thus, umami taste function seems to play an important role in the maintenance of oral and overall health,” the study authors concluded.


5) Research published in the June 2016 Food and Nutrition Research journal looked at ways to reduce sodium in spicy soups using MSG while maintaining their palatability. The researchers found that “low-sodium soups can be developed by the addition of appropriate amounts of MSG, while maintaining the acceptability of the spicy soups. It was also shown that it is feasible to reduce sodium intake by replacing salt (sodium chloride/NaCl) with MSG.” By including umami flavor with the addition of a small amount of MSG, it was possible to reduce the salt concentration without affecting the pleasantness, saltiness, or taste intensity of the soups. Other studies that examined the interaction of salt and MSG in different types of soups also showed that it is possible to reduce sodium levels by substituting salt with MSG while maintaining good taste.


6) Another study of adults in nursing homes (who usually have diminished taste) found that adding a low level of MSG improved the intake of some but not all foods tested. And where it worked, intake of nutrients in those foods went up – which would be the overall goal in a setting like this. The researchers suggest umami (vis a vis adding some MSG) may help improve interest and satisfaction in eating while giving a boost in intake of some essential nutrients.


If you are looking for more information about umami and nutrition, please visit and search for keywords (e.g., nutrition).

And a very happy and healthy National Nutrition Month to you!

Kaye is an author and consulting nutritionist with more than 15 years’ experience representing clients in the food industry, providing strategic leadership and consulting on meal planning, recipe development, consumer-focused educational materials relating to food and nutrition, science-based communications, and media relations. Read more about her background on the About page.

Leave a Reply