Parents: Teach Your Babies to Eat Fruits and Vegetables
December 27, 2007—According to a new study, babies who are encouraged to eat fruits and vegetables will eventually learn to accept them, even if they initially seem to find the foods distasteful.
The importance of the daily five
Eating a variety and an abundance of fruits and vegetables—at least five servings per day—has been associated with a decreased risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity. But according to the authors of this study, one in four toddlers may not even eat one vegetable serving per day and are more likely to consume sweet and fatty foods instead of the more bitter tasting vegetables. Working from the perspective that “preferences for foods (for example, dark-green vegetables) and beverages (for example, coffee) that taste bitter are largely learned,” the authors designed a study to look at how exposure to different foods might influence babies’ tastes.
In the study, published in Pediatrics, 45 infants from four to eight months old were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: for eight consecutive days the first was fed green beans and the second was fed green beans and then peaches. Both groups were given commercially available infant foods.
When first you don’t succeed…try, try again
Results showed that the infants in the second group initially ate more calories from peaches than green beans, as they appeared to prefer the sweet taste. When mothers continued to offer green beans, with or without peaches, babies in both groups ate increasing amounts of green beans over the course of the eight days.
Babies who were fed the green beans and the peaches had fewer facial expressions of distaste than those who received only green beans. And those who were breast-fed had greater initial acceptance of a food if the mothers regularly ate that food, suggesting that their taste for the food was influenced by exposure to it through breast milk.
The authors concluded that “mothers should be encouraged to focus on their infants’ willingness to eat the food and not just on the distaste facial expressions made during feeding.” In other words, keep introducing healthy fruits and vegetables, even if your child doesn’t appear to like them.
They add, “The best predictor of how many fruits and vegetables children eat is whether they like the taste of these foods.” And just as adults develop a taste for coffee or beer, children can develop a taste for healthful foods that they initially find distasteful. The authors recommend further research on the relationship between infants’ food acceptance and mothers’ dietary habits during pregnancy and lactation to better understand how children’s preferences for food develops.
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Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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