Kale taste makes unborn babies grimace, study finds | Science

If the taste of kale makes you mess up your face, you’re not alone: ​​Researchers have observed that fetuses take on a howling expression when exposed to the greenery in the womb.

While previous studies have suggested that our food preferences may start before birth and be influenced by the mother’s diet, the team says the new research is the first to look directly at the response of unborn babies to different tastes.

“[Previously researchers] just looked at what happens after birth in terms of what do? [offspring] rather, but actually seeing facial expressions of the fetus when hit by the bitter or non-bitter taste, that’s something that’s completely new,” said Prof Nadja Reissland, of Durham University, co-author of the study.

Grimacing fetus.
Fetuses were about twice as likely to show a crying expression when the mother consumed a kale capsule compared to carrot. Photo: FETAP (Fetal Taste Preferences) Study/Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab/Durham University/PA

In the journal Psychological Science, the team wrote that aromas from the mother’s diet were present in the amniotic fluid. Taste buds can detect taste-related chemicals from 14 weeks of pregnancy and odor molecules can be detected from 24 weeks of pregnancy.

To find out whether fetuses discern specific tastes, the team looked at ultrasounds from nearly 70 pregnant women, ages 18 to 40, from the north east of England, who were divided into two groups. One group was asked to take a kale capsule 20 minutes before an ultrasound, and the other group was asked to take a carrot powder capsule. Vegetable consumption by the mothers did not differ between the kale and carrot groups.

The team also examined scans of 30 women, from an archive, who had not been given capsules.

All women were asked not to eat anything else in the hour before their scan.

The team then conducted a frame-by-frame analysis of the frequency of a wide variety of fetal facial movements, including combinations that resembled laughter or cry.

In total, the researchers examined 180 scans of 99 fetuses, scanned at 32 weeks, 36 weeks, or both time points.

Among the results, the team found that fetuses cry about twice as often when the mother consumed a kale capsule compared to a carrot capsule or no capsule. However, when the mother consumed a carrot capsule, the fetuses assumed a smiley expression about twice as often as when either a kale capsule or no capsule was swallowed by the mother.

dr. Benoist Schaal, an author of the work, from the Center for Taste and Nutritional Behavior at the University of Burgundy, told The Guardian that the clarity of the results was surprising.

“[They mean] the mother hasn’t finished eating yet [when] the fetus is already aware, or able to sense, what the mother has eaten,” he said.

Beyza Ustun, lead author of the study, said the team was now looking at babies’ response to the different flavors after birth. “Hopefully we’ll see fewer negative reactions if they were exposed to kale prenatally,” she said.

Reissland added that the study could also be a useful way to talk to pregnant women about what they eat. “What [we] know from other research that if the mother has a varied diet such as fruits and vegetables etc, babies are much less picky eaters,” she said.

dr. Julie Mennella, an expert at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in the US who was not involved in the study, noted that the study supported previous work showing that offspring begin to learn about the mother’s diet through food flavors. that are present in amniotic fluid.

But she cautioned that the pregnant women were not randomly assigned to experimental or control groups, and that prior exposure of the fetuses in the control group to various vegetables — including carrots and kale — was unknown.

Prof Catherine Forestell, of the College of William & Mary, said the work provided a window into the chemosensory world of the human fetus.

“Future work highlighting individual differences in fetal responses to tastes and how these relate to maternal dietary habits and infants’ responses to food after birth will be of great interest,” Forestell added.

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