Breastmilk & Vegemite – a clue as to how breastmilk protects against obesity

No, this is not the exciting new name for my blog site. I reckon if I offered a prize for anyone who makes the connection between these two I would have a good chance of keeping the reward.

Funny how ideas come together from different directions; this time fuelled by my recent reading of books about food. In Fuchsia Dunlop’s book ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’ she talks about the role of fermented foods in Chinese cuisine, from soy and especially the smelly fish variety.

These highly flavoured ingredients are sources of glutamate, related to MSG, and traditionally are said to increase health and improve appetite. Their strong savoury flavours are examples of umami, the fifth taste – along with salt, sour, bitter and sweet. In John Baxter’s ‘The Perfect Meal’ he mentions garum, another source of glutamate, highly valued in Greek and Roman cuisine; prepared from fermented fish it was distilled into an elixir which could ‘cure dysentery, remove freckles and heal dog bites’. Today’s relatives of garum include Worcester Sauce, Vegemite and Vietnamese Nuoc Mam. And now the missing link.

The link between glutamate and breast milk

With our ‘so-scary and over-reported it’s almost boring’ awareness of childhood obesity there is lots of scientific interest in the reasons that breastfeeding lessens the risk of later obesity. There are many ideas and they probably all play a part, but recently there’s a new idea in the mix. Breastmilk is very high in free amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and one of these is glutamate, especially high compared to the levels in cows milk and formula. Early evidence suggests that the high levels of glutamate may be important in teaching babies about appetite regulation, and setting up important pathways for the future. This info may have been added quietly to the ‘science side’ of my brain if I had not recently read those two books, but now I am tuned in to watch for updates.

Kay Gibbons
Kay Gibbons
I am a food lover, food writer and dietician, with hands-on experience in pretty much everything related to food for children. My experience has prepared me for consultancy across nutrition & food service areas in health and education.
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