Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Babies and food

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M interest in food is deep and abiding, though the only food I can actually remember from toddlerhood is Zwieback, which I remember distinctly.

Still, I thought this New Yorker article by Burkhard Bilger was interesting. From the article:

Baby food shouldn’t be this hard. After a few hundred thousand years of raising children, humans ought to have this part down. No food has been more obsessively studied, no diet more fiercely controlled, no dining experience more anxiously stage-managed. Yet we still get it wrong. On any given day, a quarter of American toddlers eat no vegetables. When they do eat them, the most popular choice is French fries. Why don’t babies know what’s good for them? And why don’t we?


We learn to eat what we’re given to eat, and that education begins before we’re born. When a pregnant woman eats a green bean, its flavor winds its way into the amniotic fluid around her fetus, and later into her breast milk. “Carrots, vanilla, alcohol, nicotine, mint—I’ve never found a flavor that didn’t get through,” Julie Mennella told me. Those tastes, and the colors and textures of things that contain them, come to signify food in babies’ minds. Children whose mothers ate potatoes with garlic while pregnant, a study in Ireland found, are more likely to enjoy potatoes with garlic ten years later.


Babies of that era were often anemic, so they needed food fortified with iron. But that was because physicians insisted on clamping their umbilical cords immediately after birth. This kept blood from flowing from the placenta, depriving the baby of up to a third of its blood supply. Instead of nursing at their mother’s breast, babies were carted off and given formula, which kept the mother’s milk from coming in. It was a self-perpetuating cycle, and it kept spinning long after children grew up. Just as eating broccoli as a baby can teach you to love it as an adult, eating foods full of sugar, salt, starches, and preservatives can give you a taste for those things later on. It’s palate training on an industrial scale.

Babies can get fat when fed solid food too soon. Before the age of five months, they’re often too weak to refuse a meal, and adults, in their way, follow suit. “Industrializing the food supply was a win for most people,” Bentley told me. “It created safe, affordable, shelf-stable food that only rich people used to be able to eat. The problem is that, when so much food is available, the rules around it disintegrate. We can afford to eat like cavemen now or to be gluten-free. We can eat anything, anywhere, anytime, and the really delicious stuff is not that great for you. So now we aren’t dying of disease or hunger. We’re dying from consuming too much.”


To learn to like a vegetable, children have to try it again and again, the psychologist Leann Birch found more than forty years ago. Sometimes it takes ten tries or more. But who wants to take that advice? Who wants to watch a baby toss a turnip across a room five times, much less ten? “Most of our research shows that parents will buy one container and give it three or four times, but they won’t buy it again,” Smith-Simpson told me. Good eating habits are the one skill that parents don’t mind their children giving up on, Saskia Sorrosa told me: “When they’re learning to ride a bike, they fall down a hundred times. Learning to read takes years. But when they’re learning to eat it’s ‘Oh, well, you didn’t like it the first time. Don’t bother.’ ”


The American diet is like a broken bridge, Johnson says. It’s missing a span of simple, savory baby foods that can lead to healthy eating habits. “There’s nothing wrong with fruit. But fruit in my dark-green vegetables? Who thought that was a good idea?” Getting children across the bridge has never been easy, but in a culture that always plays to their weaknesses it can seem impossible. American toddlers now eat an average of seven teaspoons of sugar a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control—more than the recommended allowance for adults. Even baby food made with a single, unsweetened ingredient may taste nothing like the real thing. Babies raised on the pressure-cooked bananas in jars, one study found, were no more likely than others to enjoy the fresh fruit.


Rachel’s lenga-lenga was like no baby food I’d ever seen. It was full of onions and garlic and bitter green pepper. It had mashed eggplant and leeks that could give a baby gas. It was salty from the bouillon—the rest of the family would be eating it, too—and far from sweet. By the time it was done cooking, it was a thick green porridge, pungent with smoked fish and sulfurous plants. It made kale look like Christmas candy. And yet, when Rachel brought a bowl of it over to Soraya on the couch, she bounced up and down and clapped her hands.

“With really young babies, it’s not about liking or not liking,” Susan Johnson had told me. “If they want to eat, they’ll eat.” That’s the most striking finding of the Good Tastes Study. In video after video, the babies grimace or purse their lips after the first taste of kale. But when offered a second spoonful, they eat it anyway. “It’s amazing that they do, but they do,” Johnson said. “There seems to be this window of opportunity between six and nine months—maybe even twelve months—where they’re just interested in food. And that predisposes them to healthy eating. They’re like baby birds. It doesn’t even matter if they like it. They just try it.”

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2019 at 2:45 pm

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