Foods that are naturally rich in glutamic acid, such as Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, seafood, corn, peas, cabbage, spinach, meats and fish-based sauces, have the ability to impart a sustained flavor after being eaten. This flavor is scientifically recognized umami, where specific receptors for glutamic acid were discovered in the taste buds 22 years ago.
According to nutritionist Viviane Lansky, professor in the Department of Nutrition at UFPE (Federal University of Pernambuco), glutamic acid (also known as glutamate) is a non-essential amino acid found in a variety of foods, part of the structure of both proteins and proteins. in free form.
Glutamate is also found naturally in our body. “Its function is to act as an important neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and when found in food, it imparts the flavor of umami, one of the five essential flavors to the human palate,” says Lansky.
From glutamic acid also comes monosodium glutamate, a type of salt produced industrially by fermenting cane sugar and other similar raw materials. “Bacteria used in this process convert the sugar to glutamic acid and add a sodium ion to form monosodium glutamate. It is used as a food additive in industrialized products with the function of enhancing palatability,” explains Lansky.
Currently, according to the nutritionist, monosodium glutamate has been classified as a safe additive by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the food regulatory agency in the United States since 1958, and has been authorized by the WHO (World Health) since 1987. Organization). ) for use in food.
For this reason, it has been commonly added to ultra-processed foods such as instant noodles, some sauces, snacks, instant seasonings, canned foods, and sausages such as sausages, bologna, ham, and hamburgers. According to Regina Stikan, a nutritionist at Santa Catarina Hospital, what makes these products so delicious is glutamate.
As with any food, care must be taken not to overdo it. This is because more studies are needed on the effect of consuming glutamate indefinitely and in large quantities. “The results are still inconclusive regarding the daily amount allowed for consumption, but it is known that in the long run, excess can cause health damage such as headaches, changes in memory, cognition, in addition to agitation,” he says. stick.
Also, according to the nutritionist, the consumption of glutamate should be avoided when a person is under stress, for example, since the substance has the ability to deregulate the body as a whole. “A stressed person has heartbeat problems, natural agitation, and lack of concentration. And when over-processed glutamate is ingested, it amplifies the negative effects.”
These symptoms occur because industrial versions and high sustained doses can cause glutamate to act as a neurotransmitter, says nutritionist Ana Luisa Vilela, MD, obesity, gastroenterology and nutritionist at Hospital Beneficência Portuguesa. “Therefore, we should limit the consumption of additives whenever possible, even though it’s been released by regulatory agencies,” she says.
In addition, glutamate consumption does not occur in isolation, as it is found in most industrialized foods (also found in canned foods and ready-to-eat foods), as the nutritionist from SBAN (Brazilian Association for Food and Nutrition). ) explains Rosana Farah. “These foods should be avoided as they contain high levels of sodium and extremely harmful dyes, preservatives, sweeteners and other substances. Yes, they do”.
Vilela also explains that there are studies trying to link glutamate with obesity, but nothing conclusive so far. “There is no data on the daily consumption of Brazilians in Brazil, but in the United States it is estimated that Americans consume 13 grams of protein and half a gram of processed food,” he says.
Monosodium Glutamate May Contribute to Reducing Sodium Use
According to Lansky, because the taste of umami is associated with increased salivation, one of the benefits of glutamate is that it can aid digestion and improve the taste perception of food. “As a seasoning, by replacing some of the salt, it can still reduce sodium consumption in culinary preparations because it contains a third less sodium,” she notes.
This means, for example, in a recipe that calls for three parts salt, the substitution can be made using two parts salt and one part monosodium glutamate, reducing the total sodium content. “Caution should be exercised in the consumption of industrialized products such as snacks, ready-made sauces (tomatoes, salads, English, soy sauce), concentrated broths, processed foods, which are an important source of glutamate in the diet but also contain other health-damaging ingredients such as excess sodium, sugar, and fat. meats,” says the teacher.
According to Lansky, there is no recommendation to avoid using glutamate as a spice, but using spices in kitchen preparations can be even more advantageous and beneficial. “Turmeric, thyme, parsley, thyme, cumin and cinnamon, for example, add flavor and also impart other important health properties such as antioxidant and antimicrobial activity.”