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You Are What You Eat (And What Mom Ate, Too)

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About four weeks after the mothers started to give their babies cereal, the babies were videotaped eating plain cereal and, at another time, cereal made with carrot juice. The babies who had been exposed to carrot juice in the womb or through breast milk made fewer 'negative' faces, were perceived by their mothers as enjoying the carrot-flavored cereal more, and they ate a bit more of the cereal.

"When we looked at the video tapes and looked at [the babies'] facial responses, it really implied that [this] exposure to a flavor affects the enjoyment of a food and also the acceptance of that food," says Mennella.

This process of gaining food experiences "...is one of the first ways in which infants are learning about the food choices of the mother." she says, noting there may be regional implications as well. "These flavor experiences in amniotic fluid and mother's milk are the infant's first exposure to the flavor of the foods of their culture.

"There has always been a lot of folklore that babies will like the foods that were craved by the mother during pregnancy," says Mennella. "And I would suggest that it might be the case, if the mother gives in to those cravings, and this is one mechanism that may explain a lot of this."

Linda Bartoshuk, PhD, points to other implications of the study. She is an experimental psychologist, with an expertise in taste, who reviewed the report for WebMD.

"It is advancing our insight into how people like food," says Bartoshuk, a professor in surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

"What are the factors that make people like particular foods?" she says. "This shows an exposure factor is involved, which could be incredibly important."

What could make this finding so significant, Bartoshuk says, is the fact that diet is a risk factor in an incredible number of diseases, like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

"We have this incredible anomaly: we know what to eat, we know what is healthy and we also know that people don't make those choices," she says. "Why don't they? I don't think there is a more important question to ask in modern medicine, if you are interested in preventive medicine."

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