We Are Born With a Sweet Tooth
A new study by Julie Mennella and Allison Ventura shows that children's preferences for sweets may come embedded and hardwired in them from birth.
This explains a few things, in my opinion. First, it gives reason to how my children can eat a full meal and still ask for ice cream when we're done. Second, it makes sense then that kids who are left to their own devices often make poor dietary choices. Finally, it helps explain why babies tend to prefer pears over green beans and why adults lose their sweet tooth after a while…some of us at least.
As a parent, one of the things I found most interesting in regards to this study was the focus on how the sweet preference changes as children reach adolescence. It should be no surprise that newborns like sweet things, I suppose. Breast milk and its formula counterparts are, after all, sweet. However, in an interview on NPR Julie Mennella stated, "They prefer much more intense sweetness and saltiness than the adult, and it doesn't decrease until late adolescence. And we have some evidence they may be more sensitive to bitter taste."
The study looked at how much sweet kids could tolerate, and until they stopped growing, marked by a bone growth marker in their urine, children could take as much sugar as you could throw at them. A hypothesis can be drawn that evolution could be at play, with sweet substances generally being higher in calories and therefore more important when food was scarce. The same can be said for salt, as well as salt acting as a preservative to ward off disease.
So, we like the sweet as we grow, but once we stop growing…our tolerance levels should level off. It's like our body is telling us we don't need all the sweet anymore, and it's time to stop growing.
The next time your children request a sweet snack, think about what their body might be telling them, but also realize that offering healthy food and a good balance is part of growing a healthy little person, even if they'd rather have all the ice cream in the world before they even gave asparagus a second thought.