Bad eating habits start in the womb; processed food is more like a drug

NY Times article below my commentary.

When my daughter was a toddler, I would grow snap peas in the spring, and sun gold cherry tomatoes through the summer. I would take her out to the garden, point her to the snap peas vines or the cherry tomato plants, and let her graze. Snap peas and sun gold cherry tomatoes have a lot of natural sugars, and I knew that babies and small children go for sugar like a drug. She would devour those peas and tomatoes, and then have a rush of jubilant energy to play, minus the sugar crash. I remember thinking that day cares should have specialized “sugar gardens” like that, with strawberry patches and raspberry patches, blueberry bushes, sungold tomatoes, and fencelines of super-sweet snap peas. Sending the kids to “graze” solves at least two problems at once — it gives them something to do, and gives them something to eat. Being a gardener and involving your kids is really an optimal way to set them on the right path at a young age. They like helping in the garden when they are young, and you can literally put them out to graze on the garden (something only a father would figure out, LOL).

Intense fruity flavor.

Exceptionally sweet, bright tangerine-orange cherry tomatoes leave customers begging for more. Vigorous plants start yielding early and bear right through the season. Tendency to split precludes shipping, making these an exclusively fresh-market treat. The taste can’t be beat. 15-20 gm. fruits. Indeterminate. Avg. 12,850 seeds/oz. Packet: 40 seeds.

Bad eating habits start in the womb.

Bad Eating Habits Start in the Womb
Published: December 1, 2013 Comment
THE solution to one of America’s most vexing problems — our soaring rates of obesity and diet-related diseases — may have its roots in early childhood, and even in utero.

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research organization in Philadelphia, have found that babies born to mothers who eat a diverse and varied diet while pregnant and breast-feeding are more open to a wide range of flavors. They’ve also found that babies who follow that diet after weaning carry those preferences into childhood and adulthood. Researchers believe that the taste preferences that develop at crucial periods in infancy have lasting effects for life. In fact, changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.

“What’s really interesting about children is, the preferences they form during the first years of life actually predict what they’ll eat later,” said Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist and researcher at the Monell Center. “Dietary patterns track from early to later childhood but once they are formed, once they get older, it’s really difficult to change — witness how hard it is to change the adult. You can, but it’s just harder. Where you start, is where you end up.”

This may have profound implications for the future health of Americans. With some 70 percent of the United States population now overweight or obese and chronic diseases skyrocketing, many parents who are eating a diet high in processed, refined foods are feeding their babies as they feed themselves, and could be setting their children up for a lifetime of preferences for a narrow range of flavors.

The Monell researchers have identified several sensitive periods for taste preference development. One is before three and a half months of age, which makes what the mother eats while pregnant and breast-feeding so important. “It’s our fundamental belief that during evolution, we as humans are exposed to flavors both in utero and via mother’s milk that are signals of things that will be in our diets as we grow up and learn about what flavors are acceptable based on those experiences,” said Gary Beauchamp, the director of the Monell Center. “Infants exposed to a variety of flavors in infancy are more willing to accept a variety of flavors, including flavors that are associated with various vegetables and so forth and that might lead to a more healthy eating style later on.”

There is another reason these exposures have a lifelong impact, he said: “This early exposure leads to an imprinting-like phenomenon such that those flavors are not only preferred but they take on an emotional attachment.”

This puts babies fed formula at a disadvantage because the flavors in packaged formula never change. But according to Ms. Mennella, the opportunity to expose those babies to a range of flavors is not lost. “Just because you’re formula-fed, it’s not hopeless,” she said. “Babies learn through repeated exposure, so the more varied the diet, the more likely they’ll be to accept a novel food.”

Another recent study conducted at the FoodPlus research center at the University of Adelaide in South Australia found that exposure to a maternal junk food diet (defined in the study as any food that was energy dense, highly palatable and had a high fat content) results in children with a preference for these same foods. In a rodent model, the study found that being exposed to too much junk food in utero and through breast milk leads offspring to develop a reward pathway in the brain that is less sensitive than normal. Mothers who were fed foods like Froot Loops, Cheetos and Nutella during pregnancy had offspring that showed increased expression of the gene for an opioid receptor, which resulted in a desensitization to sweet and fatty foods. “The best way to think about how having a desensitized reward pathway would affect you is to use the analogy of somebody who is addicted to drugs,” Jessica R. Gugusheff, a Ph.D. candidate at FoodPlus and the lead author of the study, wrote in an email. “When someone is addicted to drugs they become less sensitive to the effects of that drug, so they have to increase the dose to get the same high,” she wrote. “In a similar way, by having a desensitized reward pathway, offspring exposed to junk food before birth have to eat more junk food to get the same good feelings.”

Ms. Mennella at Monell has also done research on reward pathways for sweetness and has found that sweet flavors have an analgesic effect on babies and children such that babies will cry less and children will leave their hand in a cold water bath for longer periods with sweet flavors in their mouths. Ms. Mennella has also found that in obese children, while the level of sweet they prefer is the same as that of normal-weight children, sweet flavors are not as effective as an analgesic. “I hypothesized maybe it’s because of some disruption in the opioid system, so maybe they need more sweet to get the same effect,” she said.

These research studies call into question the ethics of marketing poor-quality foods to children as well as the marketing of infant formula.

In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of mothers breast-feed exclusively for six months, with rates significantly lower for African-American mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breast-feed exclusively for at least six months and then continue some breast-feeding as they introduce solid foods for the next six months. The World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

But infant formula is a booming billion-dollar industry with three companies controlling almost 98 percent of the market: Mead Johnson, maker of Enfamil, Abbott, manufacturer of Similac, and Nestlé (now Gerber), maker of Good Start.

Functional foods, or foods that allegedly deliver nutritional benefit beyond what is available in natural foods, are a food industry creation to convince consumers that their products are superior to, or can replace, natural, whole foods. Globally, infant formula is the fastest growing functional food; the market is on track to grow by nearly $5 billion in 2013 alone.

But formula is only part of the problem since breast-fed babies of mothers eating too many refined and processed foods are also at risk. Claims by the food industry that personal responsibility, exercising more, and eating less are the solutions to obesity and diet-related disease are turned on their head with these studies. If babies are developing food preferences in utero and before 2 or 3 years of age through no fault of their own, how can we then blame them when they become obese children and adults?

If we hope to reverse the tide on obesity and diet-related disease in America, regulating processed food products and infant formula, and creating clear warning labels to deter parents from feeding their children potentially harmful foods may be our best shot. Let’s make sure future generations have the best chance to become healthy adults.

Kristin Wartman, a journalist, is writing a book on how the industrial food system is changing our minds, bodies and culture.


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6 Responses to Bad eating habits start in the womb; processed food is more like a drug

  1. Mr. Rational says:

    I would watch it with the ultra-sweet tomatoes and such.  Humanity has been breeding the actual nutrition (phytonutrients) out of our food plants since time immemorial.  These often have bitter or astringent tastes which many find unpleasant.  Sweet corn has a heap of sugar and very little in the way of actual nutrition.

    I try to eat things like spinach and arugula which have not had so many nutrients bred out.

  2. Cranberry says:

    Rather the tomatoes and snap peas than a cookie. I’m working very, very hard to keep the sugar out of the kids’ diets. Easy for the baby, harder for the five yo.

    Why do I feel like this article ought to be headed “From the DOTO*”? Every book on pregnancy I read counseled an expectant mother to eat very healthy foods and don’t pig out on treats or 1) the mother could (likely would) gain too much weight and 2) your baby could be born obese or be at risk for obesity later in life. (*DOTO = dept. of the obvious)

    Folk wisdom can only be undermined and denied by “science” for so long, until some study confirms the folk wisdom right in the first place. I’m more than weary of this, because it erodes peoples’ confidence in their own instincts and implies trust in the State, for all wisdom and knowledge and proper life practices, even down to childbearing and rearing, is the only way to a fulfilling life. I know it’s just a health article about some studies on childhood eating habits, but it’s never ever really that simple, is it?

  3. Isn’t it funny that Wimminz had thousands of years of Wicca Witch Birthing, which brought the live birth numbers up to mostly alive as opposed to mostly dead? Honor Cock-blocking FTW!

    Then, the men that invented science actually figured out the germ theory of disease – and everything else – now actually fulfilling the 14 words is easier and safer than ever?

    Yet the White Knight Nationalist movement still won’t put these females in their place?


    Oh, oh What’s her name, Marie Curie!


    So, so impressed, ladies.

    • Cranberry says:

      I’m glad for medical supervision of birth by a trained OB or midwife. My last pregnancy was very normal but the birth nearly killed me, and if I’d opted for homebirth I might have bled to death. As it is I almost bled to death in the hospital. Not an experience I would want to relive or wish on anyone.

      When Semmelweiss proposed handwashing as a sanitary practice for doctors, it was because he observed women and children were dying more often when delivered by doctors as opposed to midwives. The doctors would go from the morgue or a sickroom and deliver a baby without washing up. The midwives were not spreading germs and were washing in between deliveries. Confinement of duty plus washing meant fewer deaths from infection.

    • mindweapon says:

      Those are pretty funny videos, Hipster.

      As far as your comment about “putting women in their place,” it is a bit out of place here. Our women commenters are not out of place in the first place, and the problem of character applies to both sexes. It’s true that men need to provide firm guidance to the women in their lives, and everyone is happier, but that is best accomplished by tacit strength of character rather than calling for “putting women in their place.” Even the language of “put women in their place” is the kind of a caricature of how we are viewed by the Left.

      I think we’ll have better relations between the sexes and stronger families when we have to go back to a level of localized food production and food processing. We’ll have to re-learn cooperation and getting along and emotional intelligence, that has been lost in the atomized life of automatic living.

      One can live without any human contact these days, except maybe cashiers and doctor and dentist visits. No cooperation is necessary. Social autism is epidemic as a result. It’s a dysfunction of social structure, and women are susceptible to this dysfunction a bit more than men are. But in the long run, we’re all going down together or pulling out together.

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