How the 5th Flavor Can Help You Lose Weight

by Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN ; Updated June 04, 2018

Shhh, we have a secret — and it’s delicious! It’s a secret flavor, and like sour, salty, sweet and bitter, it’s an ingredient-activated taste sensation that has the potential to rescue your taste buds from the effects of culinary apathy. Yes, really!

Recently coined the “fifth taste,” it’s called umami, a term created by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda a long time ago (1908 to be exact), but which has only recently been officially recognized as a legitimate fifth taste.

Umami is described with words like “savory,” “meaty” and “amplified,” and it’s what creates the craveability of foods like pizza and burgers. Yes, there is a reason you’ve never craved an apple the way you crave a slice from Joe’s Pizza!

As an ingredient-activated taste, umami can be experienced simply by combining ingredients that work well together — such as combinations of meat, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms and cheese. Certain combinations of umami-rich foods can act as a “flavor bomb” when added to any savory dish making them restaurant mainstays. Ever wonder why the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) is often found in processed foods and cheap takeout? It, too, is an umami enhancer. Along with the 10 umami-boosting flavors below, the fifth taste can have some powerful effects on your palate.

Read More: Is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) Misunderstood?

The good news is there is evidence that including umami-rich foods in your diet can help you lose weight. “Since umami heightens the overall cuisine experience, it’s possible to use fewer rich ingredients to reach full taste satisfaction in dishes. This, in turn, may result in a lower total calorie intake. Studies also suggest that umami may play a role in satiety,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.”

Umami and Weight Loss

In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding MSG to soup stimulated appetite during eating in adults of normal weight, but it also boosted post-meal satiety, which resulted in eating less later in the day. Great — the thin get thinner on tastier food. But how might umami-rich foods affect your appetite and waistline if you’re on the curvier side of things?

Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition recruited overweight or obese women with no history of eating disorders and found that adding MSG to vegetable soup not only resulted in them eating less later in the day, but also resulted in a reduced intake of high-fat, savory foods. Translation: Having an umami-rich vegetable soup as a starter might make you unable to finish your cheeseburger later.

But do people of a healthy weight and obese people detect umami the same? Yet another study published in the journal Obesity found that obese women have lower MSG taste sensitivity and prefer higher-concentrations than do normal-weight women. Translation: The bigger you are, the more umami you probably need to feel satisfied.

In addition to umami-rich foods enabling people (of all sizes) to eat less because they feel more satisfied, the opposite experience has been observed in that people who don’t find flavor satisfaction in their food are more likely to overeat.

Read More: 9 Delicious Recipes Made With Healthy Fats

A prime example of this was in the 1990s, when fat-free, flavorless foods were so poplar and people would eat huge quantities because they never felt truly satisfied from a taste standpoint. Today it appears your most satisfying and slimming option is to include combinations of healthy umami-rich foods in your meals.

10 Easy Umami Boosters

Tomato Paste

Stir into soups to add depth. Saute with onions first when making homemade soup.

Egg Yolk

Combine with lean ground turkey or chicken breast to create a tastier, moister poultry burger.

Green Tea

Use brewed unsweetened green tea as a poaching liquid, such as for poaching chicken to be transformed into chicken salad.


Saute shiitakes and add anywhere! Try porcini mushroom powder as is (or mixed with spices) for a “spice rub” on poultry, fish or meat.

Sea Vegetables

Make a broth with dried kombu for a vegetarian soup or in which to simmer rice. Or, just like salt, simply sprinkle dried kelp granules on savory dishes.

Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce

Splash into cuisine as a “seasoning” even for non-Asian foods, such as bland-tasting vegetable stews, dips or hummus.

Miso Paste

Whisk into homemade vinaigrette or marinades to punch up the flavor. Combine with mirin and brown sugar and brush on grilled fish fillets as a glaze.

Fish Sauce

Don’t make a traditional pad thai without it. Add a splash to green vegetables, like when sauteing rapini or roasting Brussels sprouts.

Anchovy Paste

Mix into marinara sauce to heighten taste when preparing pasta or pizza. Toss with pasta along with an olive oil-based sauce too.

Aged Parmesan Cheese

Sprinkle onto low-sodium soups in lieu of salt to punch up taste or onto low-cal salads to enhance the overall salad-eating experience.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you like the flavor of umami? If so, what are some of your favorite umami boosters? How do you add umami to your diet, and have you found it helpful in managing your weight?

Read More: 16 Snacks That Are OK to Eat at Night

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About the Author

Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, is a nutrition writer, frequent expert on TV shows, and author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight." She is passionate about helping people reach their health and wellness goals. Follow her at www.patriciabannan.com