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Early salt intake may influence the preference for salty taste later in life

January 20, 2012

A new study suggests that early consumption of starchy table foods may shape a greater preference for salty taste of infants and young children.

In the study, salt preferences of 61 infants were tested at both two and six months of age (1). Both times, the infants were allowed to drink from three bottles for two minutes each. One bottle contained water, another contained a moderate concentration of salt (1%, which is about the saltiness of commercial chicken noodle soup) and the third bottle had a higher concentration of salt (2%, which tastes extremely salty even to adults). The preference for saltier taste was calculated by comparing how much salt solution the infant consumed versus water. Thus, if the infant drank more of the 1% salt solution than water, it was considered to have a preference for the 1% solution. The study results showed that two-month-old infants were either indifferent to (1%) or rejected (2%) the salt solutions. At six months old, the salty taste preference of the same infants was related to previous exposure to starchy table food. The 26 infants already eating starchy foods preferred both salt solutions to water, while the 35 babies who had not yet been introduced to these foods remained indifferent toward or continued to reject the salt solutions. The researchers focused on starchy table foods because they include processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, breads and crackers, that are frequently used as the first foods for children and often contain added salt.

To explore whether the early effect extended into childhood, 26 of the children returned at preschool age. Mothers completed questionnaires about the children's dietary behaviors, which revealed that the 12 children who had been introduced to starchy table foods prior to six months of age were more likely to lick salt from foods and likely to eat plain salt. These findings suggested that the early dietary exposure was related to an increased affinity for the taste of salt several years later.

The researchers commented that 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 shows that the first months of life constitute a sensitive period for shaping flavor preferences. Salty taste indicates the presence of

References

  1. Stein L. J. et al. The development of salty taste acceptance is related to dietary experience in human infants: a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012; 95:123–129.