While it’s known that some kids aren’t big fans of vegetables, a new study suggests that such dietary preferences could be formed before they’re even born.
Fetuses get a more “smiling face” in the womb when exposed to the taste of carrots eaten by their mother and a “weepier expression” when exposed to kale, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science.
“We decided to do this study to understand more about the fetus’s abilities to taste and smell in the womb,” said lead researcher Beyza Ustun, a postgraduate researcher in the Fetal and Neonatal Research Laboratory at Durham University in the UK.
Fetuses reacted with a “laughter face” when they were exposed to carrot and reacted with a “cry face” when exposed to kale.
— Beyza Ustun (@BeyzaStnn) September 22, 2022
While some studies have shown that babies can taste and smell in utero, using evidence after birth, “our research is the first to show direct evidence of fetal responses to tastes in utero,” Ustun added.
“The findings show that fetuses during the last 3 months of pregnancy are mature enough to distinguish the different tastes conveyed by the mother’s diet.”
The study looked at the healthy fetuses of 100 women aged between 18 and 40 who were between 32 and 36 weeks’ gestation in North East England.
The 35 women entered an experimental group that consumed an organic kale capsule, 35 entered a group that took a carrot capsule, and 30 entered a control group that was not exposed to either flavor.
The participants were asked not to consume any food or flavored drink one hour before the ultrasound. The mothers also didn’t eat or drink anything containing carrot or cabbage on the day of the ultrasound to make sure it wouldn’t affect the results.
While the taste of carrot may be described as “sweet” by adults, kale was chosen because it conveys more bitterness to infants than other green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli or asparagus, according to the study.
After waiting 20 minutes after consumption, the women underwent 4D ultrasounds, which were compared with 2D images of the fetuses.
Lip corner pulling, which indicates a smile or laugh, was significantly higher in the carrot group compared to the kale group and the control group. While movements such as raising the upper lip, dropping the lower lip, pressing the lips and a combination of these – indicating a crying face – were much more common in the cabbage group than in the other groups.
Keen on carrot, not so keen on kale…
This is the 1st direct evidence that fetuses react differently to various tastes & smells in the womb 👉 https://t.co/13UKS7IjVM pic.twitter.com/xAqXGDqxQl
— Durham University (@durham_uni) September 22, 2022
“By now, we all know the importance of healthy eating for children. There are many healthy vegetables, unfortunately with a bitter taste, which is usually not attractive to children,” said Ustun. He added that the study suggests that “we could change their preferences for such foods before they are even born by manipulating the mother’s diet during pregnancy.”
“We know that a healthy diet during pregnancy is vital for the health of children. And our data can help to understand that adjusting the mother’s diet can promote healthy eating habits in children,” he added.
Improved imaging technology
Advances in technology have enabled better images of the faces of fetuses in the womb, according to Professor Nadja Reissland, head of the Fetal and Neonatal Research Laboratory at Durham University. Reissland, who oversaw the research, developed the Fetal Observable Movement System (FMOS), with which the 4D images were coded.
“As technology evolves, ultrasound imaging is getting better and more accurate,” he told CNN, adding that this “allows us to encode fetal facial movements frame-by-frame in detail and over time.”
The researchers have now started a follow-up study with the same babies after birth to see if the tastes they experienced in the womb affect their acceptance of different foods during childhood.
It should be noted that all the women who participated in the study were white and British.
“Further research needs to be conducted with pregnant women from different cultural backgrounds,” said Ustun. “For example, I come from Turkey and in my culture, we like to eat bitter foods. It would be very interesting to see how Turkish babies would react to bitter tastes.”
He added that “genetic differences in taste sensitivity may have an effect on fetal responses to bitter and non-bitter tastes.”
With information from CNN
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