Heymatt: My kids love candy and anything sweet. If I put sugar on spinach, I’m sure they’d eat it. It seems to be true for most kids. I really had to be careful at Halloween or they would eat everything they got in one sitting. If I ate as much sweet stuff as they seem to want all the time I’d be sick. Most grownups don’t seem to be as addicted to sugar as kids are. Why is this? Or maybe it’s just my kids, but I don’t think so. — Ellen West, TX
It’s not just your kids, it’s kids all over the globe, according to taste researchers. Just-borns can discriminate sweet and bitter with no problem. (By six months, salty is added to the palate.) Evolutionary influence? Some science guys think so. Sweet foods provide abundant calories for energy for growth (infants and teens, especially). Bitter is often nature’s signal that what you’ve just stuck in your mouth is toxic. Of course, most infants are fed carefully by trusty ole Mom, so this scavenging paradigm seems a little sketchy to me. Nevertheless, the cash-loaded food and sweets industries continually invest in taste studies, so there’s at least some data to spoon up. Though, even the studiers admit that not a lot is known for a fact; not many studies have been replicated and others have a limited number of subjects or are studying a very specific theory.
One study done by our old friends at the Monell Chemical Senses Lab sheds light on how kids might go from sweet-preferring, bitter-avoiding eaters to more omnivorous adults. They divided moms and kids into three genetic groups: one had taste buds with two bitter-sensitive alleles, the second with two non-bitter-sensitive alleles, and the third with one sensitive and one non-sensitive allele. Among other things, they found that kids with two bitter-sensitive alleles preferred especially sweet drinks. But in adults, the distribution of alleles had nothing to do with their taste preferences. The significant factors in the adult sweet-preference studies were race and ethnicity. Other science guys have also suggested that adults’ diverse food experiences over a lifetime knock out any inborn bias that might exist. There’s also a small window, in the first year or so, when new tastes can be introduced to kidlets without their scowling and pouting and kicking their chairs. These repeated feedings will influence taste preferences as the child ages and might eventually reduce the number of food fights around the family table.
Monell again chimes in with some interesting info. Kids between 4 and 12 are in a zone where they love extreme taste adventures, particularly sweet and sour. We can see this reflected in the gums and candies on the market — lip-puckering sourballs, eye-watering mint gums, pickle fixations. This, the science guys suspect, is related to kids’ intensity-seeking, exploring behaviors at this age, not any physical taste-bud changes. All this “sour” business isn’t well studied, so nobody’s saying they have a definitive answer.
So, it seems that kids are born with a sweet preference, but as we mature, our expanding diet takes the spotlight off sugar. Of course, if kids’ sugar jones is continually satisfied by Mom and Dad. a person might always need a sweet fix. Diversity early on is the best menu to make a well-nourished adult.
By the way, another study provides us with a really weird side note to our bag of treats. In utero, kiddies have the ability to “taste” during the third trimester. They ingest amniotic fluid, which of course is made up of all the stuff Mom eats. In turn, Mom’s diet influences what babes will tolerate. So if you’re dreading the chore of getting your six-year-old to eat brussels sprouts or arugula, maybe packing them into your prenatal diet will ease the veggie blues later on.
Additional thoughts about last week’s beer.
Matthew: Most beer drinkers (like myself) are just plain old “beer drinkers” (not like the Samuel Adams “We put this much hops etc...in our beer”). So, if Tipsy’s boyfriend does take his beer drinking like wine or champagne drinking/tasting that’s one thing, but any person who goes to a bar to drink beer knows that you put a coaster over your beer to tell the bartender or waiter/waitress that you just went to the bathroom or are dancing, etc...and to NOT take my glass/bottle ’cause I’ll be right back (’cause they make the rounds and will snatch them glasses/bottles up RIGHT AWAY if you don’t). CHEERS, fellow bar patrons, and keep covering them glasses/bottles, for your own sake. — (Always getting) “Tipsy” in San Diego