In my first book, Feed Your Kids Well, I wanted to emphasize how food preferences are established at a young age.
Because often, parents don’t realize that the dietary choices they provide to their children become that child’s preferred foods later in life.
It was just a hunch I had back then. But, as it turns out, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin nicely summarized this same thought in his work, The Physiology of Taste, published in 1825: “Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are.”
In other words, food preferences and eating habits arise as a result of experience with food. And most of that is shaped within the first few years of life.
Don’t believe me? Well, finally, a new study brought this concept to the scientific level…
Early exposure is key
The research, published in Science Advances, highlights the importance of early exposure to a variety of tastes and textures. Researchers even identified a neurological basis that aids in food preference (where you develop “favorite foods”).
Since the biology of taste is similar across all mammals, researchers exposed mice to a variety of taste solutions for one week. The mice were exposed early (as weanlings) or late (as adults).
Then, there was a washout period—where the mice ate their normal diet, blander in taste—before increasing taste variety once again.
(There was also a control group, which only ate a regular, bland diet.)
Ultimately, they found food preferences developed as a result of an early exposure to a combination of taste, smell, and gut-to-brain signals.
In fact, the mice who experienced the taste variety early had a stronger preference for those same flavors in adulthood, compared to the control group. The same did not hold true for the mice who were exposed to taste variation in adulthood.
The researchers also recorded the activity of neurons in the part of the brain involved in taste perception and decisions about ingesting or rejecting certain foods. And they found a broader acceptance linked to early exposure.
“Trick” the brain?
The development of taste preference requires a full sensational experience—the detection of taste in the mouth, its association with a certain smell, and the activation of gastrointestinal sensations.
All of these aspects influence the “green” or “red” light produced by your brain in response to certain foods.
(This is why food manufacturers have such a hard time manipulating foods to ensure that the “mouth feel” is the same as a food they’re trying to copy, as with plant-based “meats.”)
Of course, with humans and food, there’s also a cultural aspect to it. Think of all of the varied holiday traditions that center around food. Well, it will most likely be the foods you had as a child that you still crave on those special days.
This research also emphasizes why it’s so hard to change dietary preferences at a late age.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—but if you have young grandchildren, I encourage you to help expose them to different tastes and textures at an early age.
And as for your own dietary preferences, you could first try a detox to reboot your system. Then, aim to continue on a good diet plan AFTER you complete it.
Learn more about this approach in the January 2023 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives (“Get a whole health ‘REBOOT’ with my super-simple, seven-day detox”). Subscribers have access to that and all of my past content in the archives.
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“What We Eat Early in Life Influences Our Adult Food Preferences.” Stony Brook University News, 01/12/2023. (news.stonybrook.edu/university/what-we-eat-early-in-life-influences-our-adult-food-preferences/)