American Association for the Advancement of Science

Eat your greens, mums-to-be! It can stop your child being a fussy eater

Babies ' can learn very early on about good food, even before their first mouthful'

Science Editor, Boston

Babies learn about food flavours as early as the womb and mothers who regularly eat vegetables while pregnant can help to prevent their children from becoming fussy eaters later on, scientists have discovered.

A series of studies has shown that what a woman eats during pregnancy and breast feeding can significantly influence the type of food that her baby will prefer when being weaned.

The notorious difficulty of teaching very young children to eat healthy green vegetables rather than sweet, fatty food can be overcome if mothers realise how important it is to eat well themselves, scientists said.

“The good news is research shows that babies and their palates can learn very early on about good food, even before their first mouthful,” said Julie Mennella, a developmental biologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia.

“Even before a child eats their first mouthful of food, they are learning about flavour through the amniotic fluid in the womb, and later through their mother's milk,” Dr Mennella said.

“The message is, eat the healthy food that you enjoy and when the baby is old enough to start weaning, they will already be familiar with those flavours,” she told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

One study involving 46 babies aged between six months and a year found that those whose mothers drank carrot juice regularly while pregnant or during the first three months of breast feeding ate almost twice as much carrot-flavoured cereal as those whose mothers did not drink carrot juice.

“It was the first time the babies ate solid food, and it shows how we are primed by our earliest exposures. The research shows that children are getting sensory information in the womb and through their mothers' milk,” Dr Mennella said.

Even bottle-fed babies can quickly learn to like the taste of vegetables if they are exposed to the flavour while weaning. In the space of just eight days, weaning babies will increase their consumption of green beans by more than a half if they are regularly given the food.

“Regardless of whether 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 early on, then they soon begin to accept these foods,” Dr Mennella said.

“By the age of two, there is no reason why a child should not have the same varied diet as an adult,” she told the meeting.

Babies are genetically programmed to like the taste of sweet, fatty foods because these are the flavours associated with high calories, whereas many vegetables can taste bitter because of the natural compounds made by plants  to prevent being eaten.

“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 flavours,” Dr Mennella said.

“In the environment we evolved in, both sugars and salts were scarce. We are inherently trained biologically to like [the taste of] sweet and salt. Sweet is a signal for energy, the predominant taste of mother's milk. Salt is meat and minerals,” she said.

“My advice is: eat a variety of healthy foods that you enjoy while pregnant and breast feeding and once your child starts eating solid foods give them repeated opportunities to taste these foods so they can grow to learn to like its tastes.

”Looking at food doesn't work; they have to taste the food!  Be a good role model,“ Dr Mennella said.

The food industry is preying on this natural preference for sweet things by adding sugar to foods aimed at children, which makes it even more difficult for them to say ”no“, Dr Mennella said.

”You cannot underestimate the power of sweets. It gives children a rush. In moderation, they are fine. But they need to consume a variety of food to lead a healthy life,“ she said.

”During the first months, what they are learning about food sets the stage for their long-term habits and health,“ she added.

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Sport
video
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?