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22 Dec 2011 04:35 AM

Early Dietary Experience Shapes Salt Preference Of Infants And Preschoolers


Researchers from the Monell Center report that 6-month-old infants who have been introduced to starchy table foods which often contain added salt have a greater preference for salty taste than do infants not yet eating these foods. Reflecting their greater liking for salty taste, the exposed infants consumed 55 percent more salt during a preference test than did infants not yet introduced to starchy foods.



At preschool age, the same infants were more likely to consume plain salt, demonstrating the enduring influence of early dietary exposure. The findings highlight the potentially significant role of early dietary experience in shaping the salty taste preferences of infants and young children.



"More and more evidence is showing us that the first months of life constitute a sensitive period for shaping flavor preferences. In light of the health consequences of excess sodium intake, we asked if the effect of early experience extended to salt," said lead author Leslie J. Stein, Ph.D., a physiological psychologist at Monell.



It has been estimated that reducing sodium intakes could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually and save billions in medical costs in the United States alone. Beginning as early as 1969, the U.S. government has issued statements calling for a reduction in sodium intake. To date, the call to reduce salt intake has not been successful, in part because humans like the taste of salt.



"Salty taste tells us about the presence of sodium, a critical nutrient needed for survival," said senior author Gary Beauchamp, Ph.D., a behavioral biologist at Monell. "However, many authorities say that most people eat too much salt. Because it's been so hard to change adult intakes, we asked whether preferences might be influenced earlier in life through experience with salty food. If so, this may point to the development of public health initiatives that could help people...
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