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Babies Develop Their Palates in the Womb

Update Date: Feb 15, 2013 12:51 PM EST

Why does it always have to be so dramatic when you try to get your child to finish their broccoli and peas? Well, it could be because you didn't eat them yourself when you were pregnant, a new study claims.

Researchers found that foods eaten by expectant and breastfeeding mothers play an important role later in shaping the child's palate. Therefore, babies who were not given enough early exposure to vegetables and fruit, for example, are significantly less likely to enjoy the taste and may end up being more fussy eaters.

In one study, researchers found that children whose mothers drank a lot of carrot juice ate twice as much carrot-flavored cereal when being weaned.

Researchers say that the latest study clearly shows that if mothers eat their fair share of fruit and vegetables during lactation and pregnancy, then their children will be significantly more open to eating their five-a-days. 

Study author Dr. Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia explained that while infants are "biologically hardwired" to be attracted to salty and sugary tastes, they are less able to tolerate bitter flavors from green vegetables. Researchers explain that the aversion to bitter tastes is a natural warning system triggered by eating unfamiliar food.  However, early exposure to the nutritious bitterness teaches babies to tolerate it more quickly.

"In the environment we evolved in, both sugars and salts were scarce. Sweet is a signal for energy, the predominant taste of mother's milk, [and] salt is meat and minerals," researcher Dr. Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia said, according to The Telegraph.

"Babies are already biologically hardwired to be attracted to foods containing sugar and salt, but they have to be exposed to fruit and vegetables if they are to learn to accept and like these flavors," she added.

In another experiment, researchers found that weaning babies who were fed green beans for eight days eat an average of 80 grams on the final experiment day compared with 50 grams at the start of the experiment, which suggested that they had developed a stronger taste for the vegetable during the study period.

Researchers said that the result of the second experiment reveals that mothers who do not breastfeed can still influence their babies' tastes by making them grow accustomed to healthy foods at the earliest opportunity, Mennella said at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Thursday.

"Regardless of if a child is breast or bottle-fed, it can still learn as soon as it starts to wean. If they are repeatedly exposed to fruit and vegetables, they soon begin to accept these foods," said Mennella, according to the Daily Mail.  "By age two, there is no reason a child should not have the same varied diet as an adult."

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