Moms who want their babies to learn to like fruit and vegetables should eat them themselves if they are breastfeeding, says new research from the Monell Centre.
It also suggests offering your baby plenty of opportunities to taste fruit and vegetables as s/he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods — regardless of whether you’re breastfeeding or using formula.
“Vegetable and fruit consumption is linked to lower risks of obesity and certain cancers,” says senior author Julie A. Mennella, PhD. “The best predictor of how much fruit and vegetables children eat is whether they like the tastes of these foods. If we can get babies to learn to like these tastes, we can get them off to an early start of healthy eating.”
The study, designed to test the influence of early sensory experiences on the development of healthy eating patterns, is published in the December 2007 issue of the journal Paediatrics.
Mennella and co-author Catherine A. Forestell, PhD, studied 45 infants, 20 of whom were breastfed. The infants, who were between the ages of four and eight months and unaccustomed to eating solids other than cereal, were randomly assigned to one of two groups.
One group was fed green beans for eight consecutive days; the other was given green beans and then peaches over the same period. Acceptance of both foods was assessed before and after the repeated exposure period.
The results revealed that breastfeeding helps a baby to accept foods during weaning — but only if the mother regularly eats those foods.
Fruit flavours through breast milk
During their first exposure to peaches, breastfed infants ate more and for a longer period of time, compared to formula-fed infants. Questionnaires revealed that mothers of breastfed infants ate more fruits than did formula-feeding mothers, suggesting that the enhanced peach acceptance of their infants might be attributed to increased exposure to fruit flavours through breast milk.
However, both groups of mothers reported eating green beans and green vegetables infrequently, at levels below current recommendations. Accordingly, there was no difference in the amount of green beans eaten by breast-fed and formula-fed infants the first time the vegetables were offered.
“It’s a beautiful system,” says Mennella. “Flavours from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. So, a baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”
In both groups, repeated opportunities to taste green beans over eight days enhanced acceptance of the vegetable, increasing intake by almost three-fold.
Don't focus on baby's facial expression
“Babies are born with a dislike for bitter tastes,” explains Mennella. “If mothers want their babies to learn to like to eat vegetables, especially green vegetables, they need to provide them with opportunities to taste these foods.”
The researchers also found that babies’ facial expressions did not always match their willingness to continue feeding, noting that infants innately display facial expressions of distaste to certain flavours.
They urge caregivers to provide their infants with repeated opportunities to taste fruit and vegetables, focusing on the infant’s willingness to eat the food instead of on their negative facial expressions during eating. – (EurekAlert!)
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