Lifestyle / 27 December 2016, 09:00am / VICTORIA ALLEN AND RICHARD GRAY
London - Breastfed babies grow up to be less fussy eaters and more likely to eat their greens, a study claims.
Experts think infants get used to different tastes from an early age because a mother’s milk changes in flavour depending on what she has eaten.
By the age of six, children who were breastfed like more vegetables and eat almost twice as many as those who had formula milk.
However, there is good news for women unable to breastfeed. Giving a child a vegetable they dislike for eight meals in a row will persuade them to like it. And the tactic works for years, with youngsters still liking the once-hated vegetable when they reach school age.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first to show the long-lasting effect of breastfeeding and the eight-meal method.
Study leader Dr Benoist Schaal, of the Centre for Smell Taste and Food Science in Dijon, France, said: "Exposing infants to healthy foods like fruit and vegetables from a young age can have long-lasting effects. This early exposure to variety acts to increase acceptance of new flavours."
Emma Pickett, chairperson of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, said: "Breast milk changes hour by hour and day by day. When a mother eats vegetables, trace amounts get into her milk and subtly change the flavours.
"Babies become used to a variety of different flavours and, while they won’t necessarily become attached to broccoli, they will be more flexible and adventurous. Formula tastes the same, unless you try different brands, so that baby is going to be having the same taste every feed day after day."
The researchers studied 53 babies and found that those who had been breastfed tended to eat more vegetables when weaning than those who had been bottle-fed.
By six they were willing to try an average of two more vegetables than their counterparts – including fennel, broad beans and artichokes.
The results back up previous research in which breastfed babies given carrot juice made "less negative facial expressions’ after their mother drank it beforehand."
Researchers in the latest study said breastfeeding helps to expose infants to the bitter flavours of some vegetables that many dislike, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Their findings also prove the success of giving a child a vegetable they dislike for the next eight meals to change their mind. By the age of six, the initially disliked vegetable was still eaten by almost four in five children whose parents used this strategy.
Exposing youngsters to a variety of vegetables when they were weaned was also found to work in making six-year-olds more adventurous at mealtimes.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Midwives said: "It highlights why it is so important that we improve breastfeeding rates in the UK, and why it is crucial that mothers get the support they need with breastfeeding." The study was funded by Nestle Nutrition.