Food Cravings Part 1 - Glutamates

You’ve just finished a yummy protein bar or a bag of flavoured potato chips and 20 minutes later you want more...and more but you’re not actually hungry! It’s possible that these food choices are triggering further food cravings and derailing your hard fought weight loss efforts.  

Glutamic Acid was discovered as a flavour enhancer for food in 1866 when a German chemist tasted the brown crystal residue left behind in a bowl of Kombu soup (a type of kelp). This chemical was then patented and manufactured as a salt of glutamic acid and so MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) was born.  

Glutamates make food taste good, this is one reason why we tend to eat more, because we simply like the flavour, but the real reason why it triggers food cravings is a little more undercover. Enter...the nervous system. Glutamate is an amino acid found naturally bound in foods such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat and fish. It is also an excitatory neurotransmitter in our nervous systems and at normal levels ingested through our natural foods it is perfectly harmless. 

Being excitatory, it plays a part in our ‘reward’ system pathways (the feeling of feeling good). Glutamates found as additives are free bound which causes an overload in the excitatory process and makes us crave more of the thing that ‘rewarded’ us – in this case it may have been a soup mix with MSG or something from our local Chinese takeaway. 

It acts in the same way that addictive drugs ‘reward’ the addict through use and make them crave further use. Glutamate as an additive can come under different names, check the labels of some of your most craved foods, do they contain any of the following names? 

  • Glutamate, Glutamic acid, Gelatin
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), Calcium caseinate, Textured protein (TP or TVP)
  • Monopotassium glutamate, Sodium caseinate
  • Yeast nutrient, Yeast extract, Yeast food, Autolyzed yeast,
  • Hydrolyzed protein (HP or HVP).

These are some other terms you may find lurking in your most craved foods: Carrageenan, Maltodextrin, Malt extract Natural pork flavouring, Citric acid, Malt flavouring, Bouillon and Broth Natural chicken flavouring, Soy protein isolate, Natural beef flavouring, Ultra-pasteurized Soy sauce, Stock Barley malt Soy sauce extract, Whey protein concentrate, Pectin Soy protein, Whey protein Protease, Soy protein concentrate, Whey protein isolate, Protease enzymes Anything protein fortified, Flavours(s) & Flavouring(s), Anything enzyme modified, Anything fermented, Natural flavour(s) & flavouring(s) Enzymes anything, Seasonings, Flavour enhancer.   

Anything that is called ‘something’ protein eg pea protein implies that it also contains free bound glutamates.   Go and grab that craved food now...have a look at the label.

If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to eat endless amounts of it and then wanting to eat lots later on you may find some of these names? Even our friends the protein bar contains free bound glutamates. I discovered this after I ate 7 in a row and couldn’t understand why.  

Fresh and natural is best to ward off food cravings and to help keep you on track of your food plans. There are other common food triggers such as sugar, coffee, refind carbohydrates and aspartate.