I am a huge fan of umami foods: sauteed mushrooms and onions, a particularly well cooked piece of steak or bacon, a delightful broth, certain pickled veggies, and yes: cheese!
Lately I've been catching up on the latest Chris Kresser podcast with Stephan Guyenet, and also Stephan Guyenet's posts on food reward pathways getting deranged.
The latest podcast: http://thehealthyskeptic.org/the-healthy-skeptic-podcast-episode-10
Stephan Guyenet's series on food reward mechanisms: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/search/label/Food%20reward
Do you think it's possible that inasmuch as the taste of fruit/fructose appeals to our reward brain ("on purpose" so that fruit can propagate the species), the umami flavor in intensely savory foods also appeals to our reward brain?
Could types or excess of umami foods (even though vastly preferable nutritionally to fructose-heavy foods) pose a threat to our bodies maintaining an ideal set point?
If so, what cautionary measures/awareness are necessary in terms of diet if you're trying to manage your food reward mechanism? (For example, less [gasp!] salt/seasoning?)
I don't really think that real food is necessarily hijacking anything. It all appears to depend upon leptin sensivity, which likely predisposes us to becoming slaves to food addiction in the first place.
Leptin resistance: a prediposing factor for diet-induced obesity
This review examined several models of leptin resistance and the role of leptin resistance in the susceptibility to dietary obesity. Only some of the leptin-resistance models (leptin antagonist blockade and aged obese rats) exhibit heightened weight and adiposity gain on a chow diet, while all models discussed demonstrate obesity in the presence of an HF diet. Thus, the leptin resistance appears to be reinforcing “reward eating” beyond caloric energy requirements. Overconsumption of palatable food could be mediated by activation of reward circuitry involving opioids and dopamine or an impairment in a pathway (or pathways) mediating satiation of the palatable diet (16).
Whereas the hypothalamus, in particular, the arcuate nucleus, has been identified as important in regulating the caloric requirements, other regions in the hypothalamus, such as lateral hypothalamus and extrahypothalamus areas including the amygdale, prefrontal cortex, nuclear accumbens, and ventral tegmental area (VTA), are implicated in the reward properties of food (12, 43). Leptin receptors are identified on dopamine-containing neurons within the VTA and were found to suppress dopaminergic neuron firing rate (24). They act through the JAK-STAT signaling pathway and decrease food consumption upon leptin action. The fact that a chronic reduction in leptin receptor activity in the VTA by siRNA knockdown enhances sensitivity to highly palatable food underscores an important role of leptin receptor function in the regulation of reward feeding behavior (24). Our own data also support a counterregulatory mechanism by which leptin modulates HF feeding: leptin receptor blockade prolonged the caloric hyperphagia induced by an HF diet (67). Although, the inputs from multiple brain regions are integrated to determine food ingestion, hedonic feeding driven by the VTA has been suggested to be able to overcome the caloric requirements of homeostatic regulatory properties of the hypothalamus (12).
And that is my best guess as to why I don't overeat even when the real food is ridiculously yummy, because I'm full and satisfied since the real food hasn't pwnt my lectin receptor sensitivity. Food reward is there to make us eat in the first place, and it isn't the body's design to harm itself needlessly, unless it is already harmed.
Not to be a downer, but I don't think that this question is as interesting as it first appears. Let's see if I'm missing something - as I'm sure someone will politely tell me :)
Guyenet and Kresser differentiate between sugar as it naturally occurs in a whole food like sweet potato, and sugar as it occurs in its modern hyper-form, such as HFCS. The former utilizes the reward system; the latter hijacks it. The situation with umami ought to be directly analogous: all of those whole foods you mentioned utilize the reward system, whereas food prepared with lots of MSG - like American-style Chinese food - hijack it.
Now, if you are at a weight-loss plateau, it might make sense to eliminate foods with umami and see if that gets you past it. However, you'd have to believe that your plateau is the result of caloric surplus, because the most you could hope for is a decrease in appetite.
I think this is a really interesting and insightful topic but from my own experience though, I'm not seeing this. I actually wouldn't mind putting on a few lbs. I'm currently on a VLC diet for health reasons. I find myself craving fatty cuts of meat, especially with salt and spice but find my set point goes down when I eat this way and regardless of how much I'm tossing back.
1- it is not certain that fructose foods are worse than umami foods for everyone at all times, or even as a general rule. 1b- honey is filled with fructose but does not want to propogate... so fructose isnt dependant on having seeds.
2- i dont think caramelizing everything is the healthiest thing, it is glutamic acid.
3- i think almost everyone is a huge fan of most of the foods you mentioned, the question is more is the food a fan of you? damn i love cheese, and it messes me up bad.
individual mileage may vary. if youre trying to mange your 'food reward system" arent you really just trying to manage your emotional/reactive/addictive self through food? this is like a buddhist thing, which is good, in that you want to be able to eat for plain sustenance, and to be less controlled by emotional associations with food.
heres an experiment: get really really f'n hungry, wait for it, wait for it, eat a plain steak, lightly cooked or raw. only eat until satiated. repulsed? lose your appetite? how long will it take for your survival mechanism to override your holy food-reward program? how long until your body learns to enjoy what culture has made un-enjoyable? are you liberated yet?
I believe that umami flavor in intensely savory foods does appeal to our reward brain.
For sure eating excessive umami food could pose a threat to our ideal set point.
I limit the numer of times per week I eat a given food. If a dish is calorie dense, and something I love, I may remove it all together from my diet if it is too much of a temptation.
Umami foods do not make me want to overeat. They do mostly make me satisfied. Because food reward is not necessarily the only factor regarding leptin, set points, weight loss and appetite, I wouldn't throw away my salt shaker yet. Imo, Foods like these can be so strong tasting that they can even control appetite. Try and eat a whole wedge of Parmesean or bleu cheese. I can't. Eating fat alone or with protein or caffeine is also completely satisfying for me. It can actually makes me lose my appetite. Some of those tastes are umami so again it must be about individual tastes, needs and chemical make up.
I will tend to overeat sweet tastes and sweet + acid taste combinations. I'm assuming bland foods would help with taste/addiction problems, but I personally would not give up salty or spicy, sour or bitter because they seem to make me satisfied. Even a few bland foods can cause binging for me. Rice especially. I love it's unadorned almost sweet taste.
But if you have leptin sensitivity issues like low leptin from losing a lot of weight and not having managed to reset your set point anything that tastes good could make you overeat. If that is a calorie dense food then you might have to ban it from your repetoire.
Apparently though and this makes some sense, women have more leptin problems because of Estrogen. While mens testosterone helps them shed weight more easily. Need more evidence that leptin sensitivity and set point can be changed with diet.
Did you read the comments on The Whole health blog regarding the food reward hypothesis posts/podcast? I'm still in the middle of them and they're fascinating:) Thanks for the question.