Mothers who want their children to like vegetables 'should eat them during pregnancy'

Many a parent has struggled to get their children to eat their greens. Now scientists think mothers can make a difference by starting them early - very early.

Researchers from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, found babies can build up a taste for healthy foods in the womb.

Acquired taste: Children exposed to flavours in the womb can remember them later in life

Acquired taste: Children exposed to flavours in the womb can remember them later in life

In a study, published in the journal Pediatrics, they found flavours were passed from mother to baby via the amniotic fluid.

'Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk,' study leader Julie Mennella told NPR News.

To test the theory, researchers gave women garlic capsules or sugar capsules before taking a routine sample of their amniotic fluid.

They then asked a panel of people to smell the samples.

'They could pick out the samples easily from the women who ate garlic',' Dr Mennella said.

This means the unborn babies could taste it as 90 per cent of this sense comes from our sense of smell.

They next looked at whether memories of these flavours could be formed before birth.

A group of pregnant women were divided into three. One group was asked to drink carrot juice every day during their pregnancy, another during breastfeeding and a third to avoid carrots completely.

When the children began to eat solid food, researchers fed them cereal made with water or carrot juice.

They found babies who had experienced carrot in their amniotic fluid or mother's milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal.

The scientists said that because mothers tend to feed their children what they eat themselves, it is nature's way of introducing babies to foods and flavors they are likely to encounter over their lifetimes.

University of Florida taste researcher Linda Bartoshuk said Dr Mennella's research could have far-reaching implications for children's health.

'To what extent can we make a baby eat a healthier diet by exposing it to all the right flavors - broccoli, carrots, lima beans, et cetera? Could we do that or not? My guess is we could,' she told NPR News.

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