Preference For Salted Foods Imprinted In Early Childhood
December 21, 2011

Preference For Salted Foods Imprinted In Early Childhood

Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, report that infants as young as 6-months of age who have been introduced to starchy table foods have a greater preference for salt than do infants not yet eating these foods. Table foods such as crackers, bread and cereals contain high levels of salt, Jenny Hope reports for The Mail Online.

The exposed infants consumed 55 percent more salt during a preference test than did infants not yet introduced to starchy foods. By preschool age, the same infants were more likely to consume plain salt. It is even possible, the authors explain, that infancy contains a “sensitivity window” in which exposure to certain foods and tastes programs the brain to desire them in the future.

The findings of the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, highlight the potentially significant role of early dietary experience in shaping the salty taste preferences of infants and young children and suggests that efforts to reduce salt intake among Americans should begin early in life.

A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that the average intake of 3,436 milligrams a day for Americans over age 2 is more than double what is recommended, and is pushing for updated government standards to reduce the salt content in processed and restaurant food, reports Shari Roan for the LA Times.

Babies are born with a clear preference for sweet foods and an absolute distaste for bitter foods but appear to be indifferent to salt in the first few months of life, said Leslie Stein, the lead author of the study and a senior research associate at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

“When you give 2-month-old babies salt water, they have no facial expression,” Stein said. “This could mean that the baby doesn´t detect the salt or just doesn´t give a hoot about it.”

Research on infant feeding practices has shown that babies will learn to like a food if exposed to it at least 10 times. However, they might only be learning to tolerate the taste and are not actually liking it, Stein explains.

Studies have also shown, Stein continued, that babies are learning about the flavors in Mom´s diet even before birth, in the uterus, as well as afterward through the taste of their mother´s breast milk. “This very early exposure helps them learn to like those flavors as well.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breast-feed exclusively for the first six months and continue to breast-feed even after introducing solid foods. Doctors usually recommend introducing solid foods to babies about 6 months of age, but there are few rules over which foods to introduce first and which to offer later.

A 1990 Dutch study showed persistently higher blood pressure for children whose early sodium consumption was highest, said Dr. Stephen R. Daniels, chief of pediatrics at Children´s Hospital Colorado, who was not involved in the new study.

“We don´t have as much science as we want or need about the best way to introduce babies to solid food,” Daniels said. “There´s a tremendous opportunity to think of the period during which a baby is being introduced to solid foods as a time to get babies and toddlers on the road to the most healthful diet.”


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