Gooey pizza or plain chicken breast? Cheese fries or steamed potatoes? Fettucini alfredo or zucchini noodles? In an ideal world, we'd all pick the healthy choice without batting an eyelash. But let's face it, more often than not that isn't the case. But now research says that we may be able to train our tastebuds to prefer the more nutritious nosh, making the healthiest choice the tastiest choice.
According to a study published in Advances in Nutrition, adding natural sources of glutamate to your diet can condition your brain to not only enjoy the taste of healthy foods, but to prefer them. Glutamate, unfortunately, has gotten a bad rap in recent years thanks to the common food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG). Some people are sensitive to MSG, saying it gives them headaches, stomachaches, and even causes breakouts. But while MSG is a manufactured chemical, glutamate is a nutrient found naturally in foods like aged cheeses (think sharp cheddar, Parmesan and blue cheese), soy sauce, tamari, cured meats, miso, turkey, fish sauce, nuts, grape juice, broth, beer, and whole wheat.
Adding these high-glutamate foods as seasonings to your healthy meals helps trigger pleasure and satiety in your brain, and the researchers say that teaches your brain to enjoy these foods more. While more research needs to be done to determine exactly how it works, it appears that glutamate stimulates the fifth tastebud "umami." And previous research has found that not only do meals with an umami flavor taste better, but they also help people feel more full and satisfied so they eat less overall.
Ready to give it a try for dinner tonight? Try these 12 healthy umami-flavored dishes—and maybe sprinkle on some cheese for good measure.