The biology of food preference

20 Oct 2013 06.02 am by Renny Wijeyamohan

Our food preferences are already highly developed by the second trimester of pregnancy says Julie Menella of the Monell Chemical Sense Center, Philadelphia in comments recorded in Food Australia.


The food choices of a pregnant woman can influence the eating patterns of an infant, including taste and smell. “Mother’s milk is a flavour bridge” says Menella, “Breastfeeding confers an advantage for initial acceptance of fruits and vegetables”.


But it’s not only breast milk that can attach taste preferences to a growing infant. While the foetus sits in the uterus, it swallows amniotic fluid produced by its mother. “Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint”, Menella points out, “are some of the flavours that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk.”


Menella’s work holds profound importance for improving the nutrition of infants. If infants can be “hard-wired” to prefer healthier foods – through the dietary choices of their mothers – the impetus towards a high-sugar diet can be unwound. Conceiving of the nutrition as influenced by the physiological rather than being solely social may assist in understanding the high rates of obesity in developed nations like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States today.


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