Evolution of “TASTE”
We are living in an era where eating nutrient rich foods that boost our health, fitness and athletic performance is no longer monotonous or boring. The idea that function and taste don’t go hand in hand is long forgotten. From the basic fitness enthusiast to the most elite athlete, everyone has achieved ways of adding some taste and flavor to their meals. Even competitive bodybuilders and other physique models who are extremely particular when it comes to dieting, have their ways of enhancing their meals with well delivering ingredients.
The basic rule of adding taste to food has its roots in the Far East. The Indian culture has relied on this for centuries- the use of a wide variety of raw/dried spices, condiments and herbs using a base seasoning of salt and black pepper. The possibilities and combinations are endless. Then comes the use of the wide array of sauces, dressings and marinades. As long as you are vigilant about the nutritional label and the calories it delivers per serving (this is the least you could check if you call yourself anything close to a fitness individual), sauces are used pretty liberally for cooking and meal decoration. Low dietary fat, low carbohydrates, low sugar, low sodium. Sounds pretty damn easy; but is that all there is to it?
Realizing the worlds sensitivity to health and fitness, even restaurants and entrepreneurs are venturing out into the market of pre-cooked meals that could fit your regime. You could get stuck without a meal while still having the liberty to order a nice juicy steak and some potatoes off the menu. Even better, you could order an entire week worth of meals at your door step just a minutes microwave away before you devour it. Easy to stay on track, easy to work towards your goals, customized to fit your “macros”; and guess what? All these meals taste way better than your own prepped ones. Ever wonder why?
Agreed you often get lazy to be creative with you’re cooking; and let’s give it to you. Why won’t you? It is a mammoth task to prep out 6 meals for the day with the exact macros you want to hit; throw in some work hours, fatigue from an intense training session, other house-hold chores and you have enough on your plate to worry about making your meals taste like a French delicacy. Restaurants and Meal services liberally use “low cal” sauces and dressings to prep the delicious food that serves you well with your fitness goals, but it’s not just the macro balance that you should be worried about.
What triggers Fat gain?
Calories! Calories! Calories! All those excessive calories you consume clearly make you fat. But the root cause isn’t that. Even before the calories enter your system, there is something compelling you to consume all that food- UNCONTROLLED HUNGER. The average person fights it on a daily basis. Even the diet conscious individual with a sensitivity towards fitness falls prey to it. Give it a thought, what’s the toughest part of being on a diet? Its your inability to suppress hunger despite eating within your macro guidelines and having quality food on your plate. A certain amount of mental fortitude is needed to adhere to any diet, that goes without saying. But its not always you who gives in to hunger and cravings, its about a certain bio-chemical response that forces you to give in. Almost like being under the spell of a magical wizard.
Umami, scientifically named MONO SODIUM GLUTAMATE (commonly known as MSG) found its way into the Asian kitchens nearly 100 years ago. The primary function of MSG is as a taste enhancer in food preparation and large scale processed foods; it particularly adds the strong ‘meaty/savory’ flavor to food. During the initial years of its advent, the use of MSG was limited to Asian cuisines. The popularity of its mouth watering flavor soon created hype, bringing it to the western shores. Today, MSG has become one of the most common and widely used ingredients for food seasoning all over the world in almost all commercial, processed, canned and pre-cooked meals.
Food containing MSG was notoriously known to cause chronic headaches, vomiting, stomach bloating and overall numbness. As per a study conducted in reference to a letter by the New England Journal of Medicine, a variety of animals (including humans) were given oral/intravenous doses of MSG to check the entirety of this claim. The study failed since it could only show a negative effect (stunted brain development) on mice and not in any other animals that were subjected to the test. In accordance to this, most food regulation bodies passed MSG as “Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)”.
The Real Problem
The fact that MSG is taste enhancer is the biggest threat it poses. It is heavily linked to weight gain and uncontrollable hunger; not just for the average person surviving on fast food and commercially produced meals, but also for any fitness individual using sauces/seasoning containing MSG. The energy balance is affected negatively by the disturbed functioning of leptin action. Leptin, also known as the “starvation hormone” signals the brain that your energy needs are sufficiently met and that no more food is required in the stomach. It is the primary contributor to keeping you full and satiated after your meals. It ensures that the internal energy balance required for optimum cell function and proper weight management is maintained. Simply put, MSG suppresses Leptin release. The result? An uncontrollable desire to eat, loss of satiety (despite having a meal with nutrient dense foods).
Also, MSG makes the food taste great; and great tasting food activates the pleasure centers of the brain. These pleasure centers are controlled by glutamate neurotransmission and can mimic the powerful addiction impulse that comes from heroin, cocaine and other addictive drugs. The result is a twin pronged attack on your appetite – HUNGER and ADDICTION. Your appetite spirals out of control and you end up eating large quantities of food, more often and worse of all, still feel miserable due to hunger after a meal. This further leads to frequent snacking between meals which constantly keeps insulin levels spiked in the system. NOT something you’d want when it comes to sticking to a sound nutrition protocol; a total hormonal catastrophe!
The Final Sting
Even though MSG is a combination of glutamate and sodium salt, the problem lies in the Glutamate group rather than the sodium. The addiction impulse and the leptin disruption are both caused solely due to the presence of the glutamate. The sad truth is, commercial food manufacturers deny the use of MSG in sauces and other food products. This is not entirely true, as the food regulation bodies (Governments) permit them to continue using glutamate additives disguised under different names and the list of additives is as long as the river Nile! Think about it, this is nothing but a cheap word play to trick the consumers into believing that the products are safe for consumption. The reality behind this facade is that you’re being damaged by the glutamate derivatives even though the product is free of “MSG” in particular.
In fact, the manufacturers blatantly take the liberty to put up “contains NO MSG” labels on the packaging despite using other forms of glutamate additives. Yes yes, the next statement on your mind would be “we’re a smart set of people, vigilant and educated. We can always read the list of ingredients”. Well, of course you can, if only you knew what to look for. That’s the catch, the whole scam- Most of the glutamate additives are listed under different names unrecognizable to the commoners. And you end up buying a product that contains 99% pure MSG without even being mentioned on the label.
First things first, if you’re serious about your goals (performance or aesthetics or BOTH) you have no business eating out in a restaurant or from pre-cooked boxes on a ‘frequent’ basis. Treat these facilities for what they are; convenient and handy options when you really don’t have a choice. You have to find the time for planning your nutrition and taking the necessary efforts so that everything is in place when you need it. Remember the lessons on Discipline, dedication and determination? They weren’t just meant for training, this is where you apply them as well.
That being said, since the presence of MSG and other glutamates is so well hidden, you really can’t avoid crossing paths with them forever. In case you do happen to eat out (social commitments, family meets, dates etc) and get a gush of Umami in your system, have some tablets of Fish-Oil. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil aid in boosting leptin and thereby kill letpin resistance generated by the glutamate additives. Its best to prepare food on your own, rather than relying on meal services all the time.