Most people generally want their child to be healthy and like healthy foods and many parents struggle to get their child to eat their broccoli or peas during dinner time, but a new study suggests that mothers can help to ensure a lifelong love for healthy foods before even giving birth. Research has shown that babies can still taste some flavors while in the womb and that eating healthy during pregnancy may make it more likely that your child will have preferences for healthy foods throughout their life. Researcher, Julie Mennella from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, has spent a lot of time studying taste during infancy. At about 21 weeks of pregnancy, a growing baby consumes several ounces daily of amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is actually flavored depending upon the foods that the mother has consumed within the last several hours.
While it is difficult for some women to eat healthy during pregnancy because of various cravings, eating healthy could give the baby a tremendous head start to being healthy. In order to determine the theory that babies taste certain flavors while in the room, Dr. Mennella and colleagues asked women to consume either garlic pills or sugar pills and then researchers took a sample of the amniotic fluid. For those who do not know, amniotic fluid is the clear liquid that exists around the fetus within the amniotic sac. Our sense of taste is severely influenced by what we smell, so researchers asked a panel to smell the samples of amniotic fluid and then report back to researchers about what they smelt. According to Mennella, the panel was easily able to pick out which women had consumed garlic simply by smelling the samples.
Researchers for this study suspect that humans, just like animals, form memories of certain favorable flavors and as a result develop food preferences that last a lifetime. Researchers split the pregnant women up into three groups. One of the groups consisted of women who drank carrot juice every single day during pregnancy, another group drank carrot juice while breast-feeding, and the third group did not eat carrots or carrot juice at all.
Once the babies started eating solid foods, researchers gave them either cereal with water or cereal with carrot juice. The babies who had experienced the taste of carrots in the womb or while being breast-fed ate more cereal made with carrot juice and generally enjoyed it more based on the fact that they made less discouraged faces while consuming it.
Dr. Mennella states that researchers have yet been able to find a flavor that is not clearly evident in the amniotic fluid, however, she notes that flavors such as carrot, garlic, vanilla, mint and anise seem to be more influential which could be due to the fact that their pungent or bitter taste is less likely to be eaten by young children. Overall, these promising results show that exposing babies to healthy flavors while still in the womb may help children enjoy foods such as lima beans and broccoli.
Josephine Todrnak, Giora Heth and Diego Restrepo. Effects of in utero odorant exposure on neutoanatomical development of the olfactory bulb and odour preferences. 2011.
Julie Mennella. Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning by Human Infants.
Reynolds, D. RD. 2011. Influence Baby’s Taste for Healthy Foods While Still in the Womb.