Flavor Perception in Human Infants: Development and Functional Significance

Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Digestion (Impact Factor: 2.1). 03/2011; 83 Suppl 1(s1):1-6. DOI: 10.1159/000323397
Source: PubMed


Foods people consume impact on their health in many ways. In particular, excess intake of salty, sweet and fatty foods and inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables have been related to many diseases including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The flavor of a food determines its acceptability and modulates intake. It is thus critical to understand the factors that influence flavor preferences in humans.
To outline several of the important factors that shape flavor preferences in humans.
We review a series of studies, mainly from our laboratories, on the important role of early experiences with flavors on subsequent flavor preference and food intake.
Some taste preferences and aversions (e.g. liking for sweet, salty and umami; disliking for bitter) are innately organized, although early experiences can modify their expression. In utero events may impact on later taste and flavor preferences and modulate intake of nutrients. Both before and after birth, humans are exposed to a bewildering variety of flavors that influence subsequent liking and choice. Fetuses are exposed to flavors in amniotic fluid modulating preferences later in life and flavor learning continues after birth. Experience with flavors that are bitter, sour or have umami characteristics, as well as volatile flavors such as carrot and garlic, occurs through flavorings in breast milk, infant formula and early foods. These early experiences mold long-term food and flavor preferences which can impact upon later health.

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Available from: Julie A. Mennella, Oct 21, 2014
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    • "Repeated and varied exposure can affect children's present and future eating habits. Children acquire tastes more quickly than adults do (Beauchamp and Mennella, 2011). Food intake often tracks from infancy to middle childhood (Grimm et al., 2014), and preferences formed in childhood persist into late adolescence, if not longer (Kelder et al., 1994). "
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    ABSTRACT: This article shows how an interaction between economic constraints and children's taste preferences shapes low-income families' food decisions. According to studies of eating behavior, children often refuse unfamiliar foods 8 to 15 times before accepting them. Using 80 interviews and 41 grocery-shopping observations with 73 primary caregivers in the Boston area in 2013-2015, I find that many low-income respondents minimize the risk of food waste by purchasing what their children like-often calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods. High-income study participants, who have greater resources to withstand the cost of uneaten food, are more likely to repeatedly introduce foods that their children initially refuse. Several conditions moderate the relationship between children's taste aversion and respondents' risk aversion, including household-level food preferences, respondents' conceptions of adult authority, and children's experiences outside of the home. Low-income participants' risk aversion may affect children's taste acquisition and eating habits, with implications for socioeconomic disparities in diet quality. This article proposes that the cost of providing children a healthy diet may include the possible cost of foods that children waste as they acquire new tastes.
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    • "What is perhaps of larger concern is that the harmful effects of diet can actually stretch across generations. A mother’s diet may potentially shape her child’s flavor preferences even before birth, potentially skewing their palette towards anything from vegetables to sugary sweets in ways that could influence subsequent propensity for obesity and/or unhealthy dieting [108]. In addition, children inherit their microbiome from their mother mostly through parturition but also during breast-feeding and development until the bacterial balance matures around two to four years of age [92,109]. "
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    ABSTRACT: While numerous changes in human lifestyle constitute modern life, our diet has been gaining attention as a potential contributor to the increase in immune-mediated diseases. The Western diet is characterized by an over consumption and reduced variety of refined sugars, salt, and saturated fat. Herein our objective is to detail the mechanisms for the Western diet's impact on immune function. The manuscript reviews the impacts and mechanisms of harm for our over-indulgence in sugar, salt, and fat, as well as the data outlining the impacts of artificial sweeteners, gluten, and genetically modified foods; attention is given to revealing where the literature on the immune impacts of macronutrients is limited to either animal or in vitro models versus where human trials exist. Detailed attention is given to the dietary impact on the gut microbiome and the mechanisms by which our poor dietary choices are encoded into our gut, our genes, and are passed to our offspring. While today's modern diet may provide beneficial protection from micro- and macronutrient deficiencies, our over abundance of calories and the macronutrients that compose our diet may all lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.
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    • "The effects of exposure to different foods on the attitude toward food choices have received special attention in the field of children’s eating behavior (Benton, 2004; Wardle and Cooke, 2008; Raudenbush and Capiola, 2012). A crucial impact of parental behavior on the development of preferences and aversions has been highlighted, both during the weaning phase and later during childhood, and even during a child’s prenatal life (Benton, 2004; Wardle and Cooke, 2008; Beauchamp and Mennella, 2011). Regular pre-exposure to anise flavor through mothers’ diet has shown to be effective in inducing a preference for anise odor in newborn babies (Schaal et al., 2000). "
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    ABSTRACT: Food neophobia, that is the reluctance to try novel foods, is an attitude that dramatically affects human feeding behavior in many different aspects among which food preferences and food choices appear to be the most thoroughly considered. This attitude has an important evolutionary meaning since it protects the individual from ingesting potentially dangerous substances. On the other hand, it fosters an avoidance behavior that can extend even toward useful food elements. A strong link exists between food neophobia and both the variety in one person's diet and previous exposures to different foods. In this review, the more recent findings about food neophobia will be concisely described. Given the suggested connection between the exposure to different foods and food neophobia, this review will focus on the relation between this attitude and human chemosensory abilities. Olfaction, in particular, is a sensory modality that has a central role in flavor perception and in food preference acquisition. Therefore, the latest evidences about its relation with food neophobia will be discussed along with the applied and cognitive implications.
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