Study: Food Memories Formed In-Utero

Fetuses can actually taste the foods their mothers eat while pregnant, in addition to benefiting from their nutrients, a new study shows.  The findings are yet another reason for pregnant women to eat a variety of whole, healthy foods, researchers say–to shape the food preferences of their children long before they take their own first bites.

National Public Radio reports:

“Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother’s milk,” says Julie Mennella, who studies taste in infants at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. In fact, Mennella says there isn’t a single flavor they have found that doesn’t show up in utero. Her work has been published in the journal Pediatrics.

Mennella says this had already been observed in rabbits, so she decided to test it in human babies — with carrots. Pregnant women were divided into three groups. One group was asked to drink carrot juice every day during their pregnancy, another during breastfeeding and a third to avoid carrots completely. Then when the children began to eat solid food, researchers fed them cereal made either with water, or carrot juice and videotaped their responses.

“And just like the European rabbit, the babies who had experienced carrot in amniotic fluid or mother’s milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal,” says Mennella. “And when we analyzed the video tapes they made less negative faces while eating it.”

This makes a lot of evolutionary sense, says Mennella. Since mothers tend to feed their children what they eat themselves, it is nature’s way of introducing babies to the foods and flavors that they are likely to encounter in their family and their culture.

“Each individual baby is having their own unique experience, it’s changing from hour to hour, from day to day, from month to month,” says Mennella. “As a stimulus it’s providing so much information to that baby about who they are as a family and what are the foods their family enjoys and appreciates.”

(image via: http://www.guardian.co.uk/)

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