For many, having to eat vegetables is more of a punishment than a pleasure. Now, a study carried out by researchers at the University of Durham (England) has shown that babies begin to respond to different tastes while they are in the womb.
First direct evidence
The result of 4D ultrasounds of 100 pregnant women to see how their babies responded in the womb after being exposed to the flavors of the food consumed by their mothers, was most surprising: the babies in the womb smiled shortly after their mothers ate carrots, but they grimaced when they opted for kale.
“Several studies have suggested that babies can taste and smell in the womb, but they are based on results after birth, while our study is the first to see these reactions before birth,” explains Beyza Ustun, a co-author of the study who published in the journal Psychological Science.
For the experiment, pregnant women were asked not to eat food in the hour prior to their appointment. Then, each mother was given a capsule containing flavored carrots or kale. One capsule contained approximately 400 milligrams of carrot powder or 400 milligrams of kale powder. There was also a control group, which was made up of mothers who did not take any of the capsules. In total, 100 mothers between the ages of 18 and 40 participated in the study. When the mother consumed a carrot capsule, the fetuses adopted a laugh-like expression twice as often as when the mother swallowed a kale capsule or no capsule. Thus, movements such as raising the upper lip, lowering the lower lip, pressing the lips together, and a combination of these, which suggest a crying face, were much more common in the kale group than in the other groups.
The team noted that aromas from the mother’s diet were present in the amniotic fluid. Taste buds can detect taste -related chemicals as early as 14 weeks’ gestation , and odor molecules can be detected as early as 24 weeks’ gestation.
The findings suggest that fetuses can distinguish different tastes very early in their development , so what pregnant women eat could influence their babies’ taste preferences after birth. If this is the case, the results could have implications for establishing healthy eating habits.
“By now, we all know the importance of a healthy diet for children. There are many healthy, unfortunately bitter-tasting vegetables that are generally not appealing to children,” the authors said. He added that the study suggests that ” we could change their preferences for these foods even before they were born, by manipulating the mother’s diet during pregnancy. We know that having a healthy diet during pregnancy is crucial for the health of children. And our Evidence may be helpful in understanding that adjusting the maternal diet can promote healthy eating habits in children.
Reference: Ustun , B. , Reissland , N. , Covey , J. , Schaal , B. , & Blissett , J. (2022). Flavor Sensing in Utero and Emerging Discriminatory Behaviors in the Human Fetus. Psychological Science, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/09567976221105460