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A naughty desire for all things sugary and a fussy rejection of anything remotely bitter is the hallmark of a child’s eating habits. Rare are the kids that take a liking to their vegetables, especially leafy, dark green ones. You know, the ones particularly rich in nutrients and anything else good for you. This rejection however, has way less to do with the infant’s obedience and adherence to authority and rules. Instead it has more to do with their innate biological instincts.

When kids grow older and older, they start to understand what’s good for them and they stop fussing over their food as much. So how could it be them simply responding to their instincts?

Well, from the time they are born, babies learn to take a liking to things that will help them survive. Like their one and only food source – their mother’s milk. Breast milk is sweet so babies are wired to like sweet things. If they desire what’s good for them, they’ll keep wanting more of it. This will ensure a baby’s nourishment, sustenance and growth. This preference for sweet tasting foods carries on throughout the baby’s childhood. It then decreases and stops around the time of adolescence as the child can no longer grow further.

Some studies have even shown that taller children prefer sweet tastes more than shorter children due to a larger re absorption of water and other nutrients by their bones. In other words, children that were growing faster needed more nourishment and thus they liked sweet tastes more.

In the same fashion, babies form a disliking towards bitter tastes from birth. This is due to the fact that many toxins and harmful poisons are bitter. So if an infant dislikes bitter tastes it will stay away from them and not seek them out. Thus protecting itself from harm. Babies get used to this and their dislike of bitter foods stays with them as they grow slightly older. This leads them to shake their head when presented with vegetables like
broccoli or spinach at the dinner table.

Apart from the survivalistic correlation between sweet tastes and breast milk to keep babies sustained, sweet tastes have other benefits as well.

The popular idiom, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” hides some truth behind it. The active components in medicines are what give them their bitter taste. When medicines are taken in the form of pills and tablets the bitterness can’t be tasted. However, many children cannot swallow pills and tablets so they are given liquidised medicines. Thus children were often given sweets and candies along with the medicine so they would be more accepting of it.

Numerous studies and experiments conducted by food scientists and psychologists show us that tasting sweet things can even reduce pain. If a child is suffering pain from an injury and then tastes something sweet by sucking on a sugar candy or lollipop, the child will feel less pain. The efficacy is related to the hedonic value of sweets to the child. This means that the more the child likes sweet tastes, the more it will reduce the pain.

Last Updated on September 20, 2021

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