Saturday, February 15, 2014

Food preferences in children

This article describes research indicating that children's food preferences may be heavily influenced by their mother's eating habits during gestation and breastfeeding.  If this is true, it is somewhat disheartening for those of us that hope that eaters in the US and elsewhere will get away from junk food diets, because the research suggests that it is difficult to draw people away from junk food preferences, while to the contrary, it seems very possible to convert people from non-junk food eaters to junk food eaters.  Hence the natural flow is for people to eat more and more junk food, and if you were eating junk food in the womb or while breastfeeding, it is very difficult to reverse your preferences for it. In this respect, I have spent much of my first son's infancy neurotically worrying that his changes in taste (a rejection of guavas after a period of intense guavophagy, fluctuations in his willingness to eat broccoli, temporary preferences for bread over rice or vice versa) are indicative of an irrevocable drive toward a junk food diet.

On the other hand, I feel that in our culture at large and even in our scientific research, we in the US have an absolutist treatment of things that causes us to fixate on irreversible "nature" as opposed to the ability of humans to grow and change.  I guess we're all Freudians at heart, convinced that adult behavior is indelibly programmed at some point in some nebulous formative window in childhood.  We worry that if our kids aren't exposed to enough reading, or a good preschool, or the right foods when they are little, they are doomed to poor lifestyle choices.  There is certainly evidence that points in this direction, but I have personally seen many drastic conversions or evolutions in my own and other people's tastes and thinking, such that I am not entirely convinced that all is lost once childhood eating and thinking patterns are set.

At any rate, I very much like the article's clarity that processed foods, including infant formula, are poor substitutes for real food.  This line is great, and rarely heard so clearly in media discussions of food:  "Functional foods, or foods that allegedly deliver nutritional benefit beyond what is available in natural foods, are a food industry creation to convince consumers that their products are superior to, or can replace, natural, whole foods."

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