Mother’s diet may affect child’s taste buds

Posted: 17 September 2020 | | No comments yet

A mother’s diet could directly impact the taste buds of her offspring, affecting food preferences and diet choice, according to recent research carried out at Cornell University.

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Via animal studies, Cornell food scientists have found that a mother’s high-fat diet may lead to more sweet-taste receptors and a greater attraction to unhealthy food in her offspring. This could result in poor feeding behaviour and obesity in adulthood.

“We see this is something actually happening in the taste buds themselves,” explained Robin Dando, senior author and associate professor of food science at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Adult progeny, fed such a diet, have more sweet-taste receptors inside their taste buds than in the control group, whose mothers ate a steady, healthy diet.”

Five weeks before mating, female mice were fed high-calorie, high-fat meals; other mice were also fed the high-fat diet from the time of their pregnancy and through lactation. The control group were fed a normal healthy diet throughout.

The offspring, weaned after the lactation period, ate healthy, high-quality laboratory chow. When the offspring became adults, the mice received their first taste of the high-fat diet.

“Up until then, the animals showed no difference between themselves and the control group,” Dando said. “But as soon as the offspring of the moms who consumed the unhealthy diet had access to it, they loved it and they over-consumed it.”

The offspring only encountered a high-fat diet by means of the maternal environment.

“If a mother has an unhealthy diet where she consumes a lot of calories through high-fat and sugary products,” Dando said, “the offspring are going to have a predisposition for liking the unhealthy diet. The origin of this is not only changes in the brain, but there are other physical changes happening within the taste buds.”

While the specific mechanism remains unclear, Dando said, the results introduce the concept of ‘taste’ to the list of metabolic alterations arising from foetal programming.

“Our research adds to the evidence that the taste bud plays a role in the aetiology of obesity,” he said. “From a public health standpoint, improving our knowledge of prenatal and early postnatal factors that program obesity in offspring may provide insight into therapeutic targets to combat the obesity epidemic – a disease easier to prevent than to cure.”

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