Sugar addiction and children

Babies, breastmilk and evolution 

Babies have an innate preference for sweet tastes, starting with the slightly sweet taste of breast milk. They also have more sensitive taste buds (and many more of them) so new foods can offer an intense explosion of flavours, which might not always be welcome. A baby's mouth has more nerve endings per square millimetre than any other part of their body, which might also explain why babies explore new objects with their mouths.

What is a supertaster?

These supertasters might find the bitter taste of brassica and cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower, very challenging. However, these tastes can be learned, and there are nutritional advantages gained from eating these foods.

Do taste buds change as we get older?

Taste buds routinely die out and are replaced so our tastes can change all the time, but as we age our bodies stop replacing taste buds in the same way, so we gradually have fewer taste buds. The taste buds we do have also shrink so by the time you reach old age, your sense of taste may need more intense flavours to stimulate it.

Searching for that sugar hit

esearch has shown that those with more sensitivity to bitter tastes may additionally be more sensitive to sweet tastes. It is also suggested that children vary in their ability to recognise sweetness, showing that some children are 20 times better at detecting sugar than others, and that this may be partly genetically determined. For these children, reducing the amount of sugar they eat might be more difficult to achieve. 

Beyond biology

Food isn’t just about flavour. The smells, visual cues and past experiences, as well as cultural norms, can all influence how acceptable a food is. Ultimately, although biology plays a role in the type of foods we eat, parents play an essential part as role models that lead the way to a healthy diet in their children.