Picky Eater

October 30, 2007, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We all have several foods that just don’t fit our taste buts. The other day my husband prepared some Brussels sprouts and just the smell already turns my stomach around. Yet I wanted my daughter to have a fair chance at trying them, so I put some on my plate and even managed to eat 2 (with a smile on my face!). She was still in the Halloween sphere and called them “skeleton brains”, and she liked them!

Excerpts from eDiets:

Soon after birth, babies begin to reject intensely sour or bitter flavors. During the first few months, they also learn to appreciate fatty foods and recognize salty tastes. “Their taste world is organized into liking sweet, learning to like fat, and rejecting — spitting out — bitter taste,” says Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle. Bitterness, by contrast, is a pleasure of wizened adulthood. During youth–and during pregnancy, as any mother could tell you–we can’t stand bitter flavors. That’s probably because bitterness is often a sign of toxicity, and it’s especially important to avoid toxic compounds during these sensitive periods of growth and development. Taste researchers have theorized that 3- and 4-year-olds become picky as a survival instinct. At this age, kids are old enough to find food on their own; they just aren’t old enough to judge what’s safe to eat and what’s not. An ingrained fear of new foods protects a child from poisoning.

If pregnant women drank carrot juice daily during late pregnancy, Mennella found, their babies at 6 months seemed to like carrot-flavored cereal much more than other 6-month-olds. She and her colleagues at Monell have also shown that nursing babies seem to detect flavors like garlic, ethanol (from alcoholic drinks) and vanilla in their mothers’ milk. A baby who has never tasted garlic will suckle longer the first time his or her mother eats it, presumably gathering extra information about this peculiar new flavor. “[Mother’s milk] is one of the first ways babies learn,” she says. Breast-fed babies whose mothers eat a wide range of foods are more likely to embrace new foods later on, her research has shown, and infants fed on harsh-tasting formulas remain more tolerant of bitter and sour at age 4 or 5.

Some foods just get to us. Whether it’s texture, color or smell, everyone has their reasons, however weird or silly, for their picky eating. For example I refuse to eat soft (some call it chewy) cookies or over cooked vegetables, I prefer most of my food crispy and crunchy. Others refuse to eat “chunks” like blue cheese, feta cheese, anything chunky. A recent anthropological analysis found that more than a third of us reject slippery food like oysters and okra.

In the first comprehensive survey of food pickiness among adults, anthropologist Jane Kauer interviewed nearly 500 adult Americans about their attitudes toward foods, food variety and eating habits. Kauer, found that mild pickiness is quite widespread — about one-third of her volunteers described themselves as “unusually picky eaters.”

It may not be surprising to learn that 60 percent of us like to leave our plates clean or that close to half of us eat just about the same thing for breakfast nearly every day. But stranger habits are also common. Many people refuse to drink while they eat (which is better!). Others won’t eat food that is lumpy or has a filling, like raviolis or egg rolls. Nearly 20 percent of us are repelled by raw tomatoes (something about the gooeyness inside the firmness), and about the same fraction of us simply don’t like trying new foods.

In the course of her survey, Kauer found a few extremely picky people. One woman she interviewed, for example, ate little more than canned brains, undercooked French fries and fried eggs. Kauer thinks this intensely fastidious eating is probably related to obsessive-compulsive behavior. Questioning the pickiest third further, Kauer identified a master list of foods that are almost universally accepted: fried chicken, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, and above all else, macaroni and cheese. Obviously, these are all classic comfort foods, but more important for the picky person, they are unlikely to have weird or surprising ingredients. “We all know what’s in fried chicken, for example, even if we get it from some place we’ve never been before,” she says.

Attitudes toward eating in general are strongly cultural, and the legendary food psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that Americans have a particularly bad attitude toward food. While the French relish their meals and gobble down cheese, sausage and other high-fat delicacies, Americans are consumed with worry and anxiety, fearing fried eggs as death-in-a-skillet and obsessing over fat-free treats. Compared to the Japanese, the French and the Belgians, Rozin found, Americans worry most about food but are least likely to call themselves “healthy eaters.” He hypothesizes that losing touch with the hardwired pleasure of eating may itself be bad for our health. In the United States, “one of the most pleasant of human activities has become drenched in worry,” he argues.

Other researchers have shown that forcing a kid to choke down spinach before being allowed to eat cake simply makes kids hate vegetables and like dessert more.
Although many young children tend to reject healthy foods at first, Birch’s work has shown that 5 to 10 experiences with a new food is often enough for a kid to learn to love it. We should be more tolerant, Kauer says. Food habits are a deep part of identity, closer to religion than to biology. The omnivore who devours durian fruit and fried locusts is just as proud of his neophilia as the choosy eater is of his selectivity. “We don’t talk about it, but all of us have very strong feelings about what we eat and don’t eat,” she says. Kauer theorizes that fastidious eaters have lost touch with the social context of food.

I have a strong feeling for eating a scoop of Hawaiian Lehua honey & sweet cream (Häagen-Dazs) now…

P.S. You guessed it: Sarah loves Zuchinni


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