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Veg Love Starts In Womb

Veg Love Starts In Womb

For many of us the obligatory Christmas brussel sprout is a festive horror, but all that might be about to change. Scientists have claimed that by eating veg, pregnant women can affect their child’s palate. Laura Udakis, however, isn’t convinced. Is there more to sproutophobia than scientists give credit?

How many five-year-olds have you seen rush past the sugar-laden confectionary aisle in the supermarket, straight to the fruit and vegetables yelling “Mum! Can I have some carrots? Please!!”? Not many, I suspect. But, recently published research has found that babies’ taste buds can be trained to appreciate flavours of certain foods before they’re even born; a finding that could increase sightings of such cauliflower-craving kids.

The recent study, led by Julie Mennella at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, gave carrot juice to heavily pregnant and breastfeeding women. Four weeks later, when the babies were introduced to solids, those previously
exposed to carrot in the womb or during breastfeeding were eating carrot much more readily than the control group. Similar results have been found with other vegetables.

Flavours from the mother’s diet are transmitted through the amniotic fluid and to the foetus during pregnancy and then again in breast milk. These can include garlic, mint, vanilla and alcohol as well as the vegetables.

Cabbages' Evolutionary Ruse
Many vegetables – particularly those in the cabbage family - have a bitter taste. Evolutionarily speaking, this is the plant’s attempt to make them less appetising to herbivores. It works on humans too. “Babies are born with a dislike for bitter tastes,” explains Mennella, “Infants who receive repeated dietary exposure to a food eat more of it and may learn to like its flavour.” So if you want your kids to love vegetables, start them off early.

Is it this simple though? Let’s not forget other factors influencing the diet of your average little person. Instinct tells me that the level of sugar elsewhere in the child’s diet must play a part. Broccoli’s bound to taste even more bitter and therefore less palatable to a kid who’s scoffing sugary treats all day before dinner time.

Blame the parents (or the kids)
Genetics could also play its part - as it so often does. Scientists have identified a variant in a gene which allows us to taste bitter substances. Those who possess the variant find bitter substances even more bitter and dislike those foods more. Don’t tell the kids though, if you don’t want to hear “It’s your fault I don’t like cabbage – it’s genetic!”

Finally, let’s not forget the influence of the playground. “Katie says they’re yucky and I think so too,” might be all the reason a child needs not to eat something. Unfortunately parental wisdom often doesn’t hold nearly as much weight as what Katie thinks. So it may not that easy to turn your child into a greens-lover, although it will be interesting to see what other cunning strategies arise. Cookie dough-flavoured sprouts perhaps? I, meanwhile, shall exercise the right to push my broccoli around my plate until I’m excused from the dinner table.

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Image adapted from: Ferrylodge/W

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08 Jan 2011
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