Babies With Bad Taste

That’s a pun of course — because can anyone who refuses to eat perfectly good vegetables be said to have good taste? Unfortunately, taste (in the oral sense) is entirely subjective. When it comes to addiction to food, or addiction to the act of eating, in many cases taste has a lot to do with it, and a certain amount of the problem is simply inborn.

Here are some words from Lisa Bodnar of the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences:

I remember a decade ago sitting in front of my 9-month-old daughter […] trying to spoon-feed her a pureed green vegetable. It didn’t matter if it was peas, green beans or something else, because the outcome was the same: I spooned it into her mouth, and it came right back out.

Compare this with feeding her applesauce, for which she would open her mouth after each bite and almost bounce in her chair with pleasure. I nearly danced along with her. This was easier! Let’s just keep doing this!

But of course, for the conscientious adult, “Let’s just keep doing this” is not an option. While the sentiment is counterintuitive to us totally logical elders, some babies just don’t like the taste of fresh, pure, health-giving foods. No matter how devotedly a grownup mashes peas into a pulp, they are still peas.

And you can’t fool a kid by making a clownie face and going, “Mmmmmmmm, yum yum!” They know you are lying, and are insulted by your insistence that they deny the evidence of their own senses. After this, how can they ever trust you again?

A mystery

Unfortunately, some mean things are done to newborn babies in hospitals. A baby gets stuck in the heel to obtain blood for testing, and long ago a staff member noticed that the baby would cry less if some sugar water was dribbled into its mouth at the same time. Twenty years ago, Dr. Neal D. Barnard wrote,

As sugar touches the tongue, the taste buds send a nerve impulse to the brain, causing opiates to be released. In turn, these opiates trigger the release of dopamine, the brain’s ultimate pleasure chemical.

One might logically wonder, why does the child not then associate the sweet taste with being needle-pierced, and proceed into infancy adamantly opposed to sweetness? Why doesn’t the child hate sugar, instead of peas? And that is the insidious power of the substance. Desire for sugar can even overcome its association with the trauma of being stabbed. Or, later in life, can defeat sugar’s connection with weighing 300 pounds.

Knowledge has two faces

In Melbourne, the Deakin’s Center for Advanced Sensory Science did research to discover why about 50% of babies are so darn picky. Lead researcher Dr. Georgie Russell told the press about oral sensitivity, that “food texture, mouthfeel and fussiness are still quite unexplored.” Dr. Russell went on to say,

Depending on how a food is prepared, this can affect the texture. Children might like raw crunchy carrots, but not like them if they’re cooked until they’re soggy… We can also see this with preferences for processed foods with simple textures, compared with whole foods with more complex textures…

The sense of touch is an important one. It is our oldest, most primitive and pervasive sense yet we know little about the sense of touch in the mouth — as opposed to other parts of the body — and how this relates to our food choices and intakes.

The team’s mission was to help the frustrated parents of fussy eaters and to figure out how to raise kids who like healthful foods — but of course, anything learned in this field will inevitably also benefit the evil geniuses who invent junk food.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Why kids shouldn’t eat added sugar before they turn 2,”, 01/07/22
Source: “The Food Fix Is In,”, 07/13/03
Source: “Deakin research to determine if fussy kids are touch sensitive,”, 01/16/20
Image by James Willcox/CC BY-SA 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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