Food and Nutrition
Your Taste Buds Have Matured as Much as You Have
Jan 13, 2014 - 12:01:00 AM

( - Here's a list of things you probably didn't enjoy as a toddler: long naps, carrot cake, a nice cardigan, bath time, the smell of dutifully applied sunscreen, yoga, a tax rebate, potpourri. Some or all of which you enjoy now. So is it any surprise that foods you once rejected from the vantage point of a highchair might seem, today, surprisingly delicious?

In fact, studies show that our taste preferences change markedly from infancy into adulthood. A host of factors affect these likes and dislikes, including in-utero exposures and, later, environmental influences, but many basic patterns are common to all of us. Young children, for example, generally exhibit a fondness for sugar (a phenomenon we're all familiar with); by our teenage years, subtler flavors begin to take on a new attractiveness. Of the five recognized tastes, our appreciation for bitterness develops considerably later in life-which is why you don't see many adolescents guzzling down coffee. (Thank heavens.)

Knowing this, it's no wonder that children are repelled by items like spinach, one of a class of veggies popularly called "bitter greens" for their astringent quality. It's not just stubbornness; kids react negatively to these foods because their taste buds register a strong, foreign and unpleasant flavor. Additionally, many toddlers suffer from a mild form of neophobia-a persistent fear of new things-that must be gradually overcome with repeated introductions.

All of this suggests that it's not our fault we turned our backs on the healthy options as youngsters: mom's collard greens tasted bad for a reason. But we can't let a few negative experiences shape our diets as adults. How many wonderful recipes have we passed over because they contained an ingredient we vaguely remember disliking? How many plant-based meals would we fall in love with if only we gave them a shot?

This week, conduct a personal experiment: revisit some classic veggies and make a list of the ones you do and don't enjoy. Start by slowly by adding them to a favorite dish. If it's still not love at first bite, congratulate yourself for trying. If it is, you may have discovered a new staple. Either way, you'll be embracing your adulthood and embarking on a fun journey.

As for your kids, new research shows that a light mist of sugar over veggies-just enough to balance out the bitterness-will make them more palatable to children, allowing you to instill better nutritional habits at a younger age. Happy eating!


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