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Health & Baby

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Taste for Salt May Start in Infancy

Babies Given Starchy Foods Too Soon May Develop Preference for Salty Foods

How a Taste for Salt Starts continued...

Researchers found that 2-month-old infants were indifferent or rejected the salt solutions.

But at 6 months of age, the infants who were already eating starchy table foods preferred both salty solutions to water. The babies that had not yet been introduced to these foods were still indifferent or rejected the salt solutions.

Exposure to other types of table foods, such as fruits and vegetables, was not associated with an increased preference for salt.

Years later, the mothers of the 26 children returned for questioning about their child’s eating habits as preschoolers between ages 3 and 4.

Researchers found that 12 preschoolers who were introduced to starchy foods before 6 months of age were more likely to lick salt from foods like pretzels and crackers and were also slightly more likely to eat plain salt.

Start Good Eating Habits Early

“What our study shows is that babies’ taste system is very malleable,” Stein tells WebMD. “If early exposure to salt increases the preference and taste for salt of an individual, then one might imply that down the road it might be harder to eat lower-salt food and enjoy it.”

Nutrition experts say the results emphasize the importance of starting healthy eating habits as early as possible.

“This study helps us appreciate that what we do in the first year of life is so important to how kids eat, how well they eat, how varied they eat, and what their food preferences are,” says pediatric nutritionist Jill Castle, RD.

Castle says that between 6 months and 8 months of age, babies should only be just starting to be exposed to starchy table foods like bread, crackers, and ready-to-eat cereals in small amounts. The bulk of their daily calories should still come from breast milk or formula, iron-fortified baby cereal, fruit, and vegetables.

Experts say many parents aren’t aware that ready-to-eat cereals, bread, crackers, and other starchy foods marketed to children contain sodium, which can add up over the course of the day if the child is eating a variety of these foods.

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