How to Shape a Healthy Baby Palate
When you start giving first foods to your baby, you might think babies can’t differentiate all flavors yet. In fact, your baby might sense certain flavors and smell better than you (babies have more taste buds than adults). The ingredients you choose and the way baby meals are planned could help shape a healthy baby palate, which is linked with positive long-term health outcomes.
How baby taste buds & sense of smell develop
Baby taste buds begin to develop within 8 weeks of conception and become fully functional at 4 months in the womb. These buds are able to detect and communicate taste information to areas of the brain by the 3rd trimester . Receptors for a sense of smell are fully developed and functional by the 11th week in the womb. At theses milestones, a baby is able to fully sense taste and smell stimuli.
Pregnancy: what mothers eat is what babies eat
During prenatal life babies sense taste and smell through the amniotic fluid, which contains the flavors of ingested or inhaled substances by the mother [1,2,3]. The variety of smells and tastes sensed prenatally has an affect on their perception and acceptance of flavors for the rest of their lives [1,2,3,4].
Breast milk gives a more vibrant sensory experience to a baby. What mothers eat affects both the taste and textural properties of the milk . Formula has the same effects, yet its varied composition can lead to a preference for different flavors than breast milk [1,2,3]. Giving formula to a baby along with breastfeeding can be a helpful strategy to introducing certain flavors from food that the mother might not prefer to eat[1,2].
In one experimental trial, 2 groups of pregnant women were compared. One group had carrot juice and the other did not. This continued throughout breastfeeding. At 6 months, babies from the carrot juice mother group preferred cereals with carrot flavor and displayed less negative facial expressions when compared to the babies from the control mother group [1,2,3].
What flavors babies naturally like
In general, babies prefer sweet, salty, and savory flavours, and avoid bitter tastes[1,2,3,4]. Studies show that even fetus can taste sugar. Babies detect sweet taste in breast milk and instinctively like it. It's not surprising that they prefer sweet tastes in fruit and sugary foods.
On the other hand, babies learn to like salty and bitter taste later in life. Salt detection isn’t fully developed until 2-6 months. Bitter tastes are associated with toxic substances and therefore are avoided. However, these preferences are general and can be modulated over a person’s lifetime. Think of how grown-ups love coffee despite its bitterness.
How to shape a healthy baby palate
Increasing food diversity is good, and natural foods contain complex flavors including bitterness. The amount to which a baby perceives a bitter flavor in food influences their resistance to trying new tastes and textures (neophobia). Repeated exposure to various flavors early on in life, especially during the early periods of brain development, influence lifelong flavor perception and preferences. Here’s what you may want to try:
- Eat diverse foods during pregnancy especially green vegetables.
Breast milk & formula feeding:
- Mother eating diverse foods during breastfeeding
- Formula feeding (multiple varieties) combined with breastfeeding might open up more diverse food preferences.
- Offer a variety of foods with diverse textures, regardless of bitter tastes
- Mix bitterness with sweet to increase acceptance (e.g. green vegetables + fruits)
- Keep offering new food even if your baby rejects it (e.g. Babies rejects new food average 10 times until they accept it)
- Provide positive feedback (“Bravo!” when your baby accepts a new food)
How can Nuttri help?
- Keep track of the variety and pairing of foods/ingredients tried by your child.
- Record the reactions/preferences that your child displays with certain foods.
- Introduce a seasonal variety to the diet and check which food items are in season.
- Forestell, Catherine A. "The Development of Flavor Perception and Acceptance: The Roles of Nature and Nurture." Preventive Aspects of Early Nutrition Nestlé Nutrition Institute Workshop Series: 135-43. doi:10.1159/000439504.
- Mennella, J. A. "Ontogeny of taste preferences: basic biology and implications for health." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99, no. 3 (2014). doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.067694.
- Beauchamp, Gary K., and Julie A. Mennella. "Flavor Perception in Human Infants: Development and Functional Significance." Digestion 83, no. 1 (2011): 1-6. doi:10.1159/000323397.
- Murray, Robert D. "Savoring Sweet: Sugars in Infant and Toddler Feeding." Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 70, no. 3 (2017): 38-46. doi:10.1159/000479246.