Philadelphia (March 17, 2014) Scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center have found that children who most prefer high levels of sweet tastes also most prefer high levels of salt taste and that, in general, children prefer sweeter and saltier tastes than do adults. These preferences relate not only to food intake but also to measures of growth and can have important implications for efforts to change children's diets.
Many illnesses of modern society are related to poor food choices. Because children consume far more sugar and salt than recommended, which contributes to poor health, understanding the biology behind children's preferences for these tastes is a crucial first step to reducing their intake.
"Our research shows that the liking of salty and sweet tastes reflects in part the biology of the child," said study lead author Julie Mennella, PhD, a biopsychologist at Monell. Biology predisposes us to like and consume calorie-rich sweet foods and sodium-rich salty foods, and this is especially true for children. "Growing children's heightened preferences for sweet and salty tastes make them more vulnerable to the modern diet, which differs from the diet of our past, when salt and sugars were once rare and expensive commodities."
In the study, published online at PLOS ONE, Mennella and colleagues tested 108 children between 5 and 10 years old, and their mothers, for salt and sweet taste preferences. The same testing method was used for both children and their mothers, who tasted broth and crackers that varied in salt content, and sugar water and jellies that varied in sugar content. The method, developed by Mennella and her colleagues at Monell, scientifically determines taste preferences, even for very young children, by having them compare two different levels of a taste, pick their favorite, and then compare that favorite with another, over and again until the most favorite is identified.
Mennella and co
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Monell Chemical Senses Center