A lifelong taste for fruit and vegetables can be instilled in babies even before they are born as the taste is transferred to the child through amniotic fluids in the womb, researchers claim.
The process can be continued after birth as taste and smell is also transferred to the infant through the mother’s milk.
Scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia made the discovery during a study of the development of food and flavour preferences in humans.
The findings will fuel the campaign to cut down on rates of obesity in children by instilling a taste for vegetables, such as broccoli and sprouts, before a child has had the opportunity to sample the delights of chocolate and crisps.
Julie Mennella, who carried out the study, said: “Flavours from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. A baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”
As part of the study, Dr Mennella experimented by giving carrot juice to a group of pregnant women and those who were breastfeeding.
The results, according to Dr Mennella, showed those babies were much keener on carrots, once they were introduced to solid foods, than babies born to women who had not regularly drunk the juice.
Another experiment using raw peaches yielded similar results as babies born to women who regularly included them in their diet during pregnancy or when breastfeeding became far more inclined to eat them as they got older.
A third study, involving older babies who were eating solids but also still receiving breast milk, found the infant rejected green beans – until the mother also introduced them to her diet.
Dr Mennella said: “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.”