If You’re a Picky Eater and Ya Know it, Clap Your Hands!

Monday, July 27, 2009 at Monday, July 27, 2009
Since Conner is only 6 months old, and seems to love every vegetable and fruit we give him, I feel very fortunate. I think at some point everyone has encountered (or is) a picky eater. Now, I think we all have one or two veggies/fruit or types of cuisines that we do not care for. But you know what I am talking about. I am talking about actually refusing to eat certain things. I have a close friend and her daughter will actually gag up most veggies. Collin used to work with a woman that made 5, yes FIVE different dinners every night because everyone wanted something different. I will admit that I have always thought that most of the food kids/people don’t like has almost everything to do with the parents’ attitude and behavior (and whether they knew how to cook the food item). For example, I happen to love broccoli. However, if you over cook broccoli, it tastes like ARSE! If Mom and Dad don’t eat or like fruits/veggies/ different cuisines, how on Earth are their kids supposed to like them? Boy I have been proven WRONG! Wrong. Wrong. Now, I do think that some peeps just turn their noses up at things because they sound weird, or they think they won’t like an item. But recent research has illuminated why some people really don’t like eating certain foods. And guess what…IT IS GENETIC! Who would have thunk?

So here’s how it goes. A study by Dr. Lucy Cooke, dept. of epidemiology and public health at University College London, was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Her study investigated almost 5400 twins to determine why kidlets have certain food aversions and/or neophobia (fear of trying new things). What her research suggests is that dislike for new or certain foods is inherited! Dr. Cooke estimates that food aversion is about 80% genetic, 20% environmental.

Another recent study, headed by Dr. Paul Breslin, contends that there is an evolutionary explanation for our dislike of certain foods, i.e. our ability to taste bitter foods was a defense mechanism to ensure we did not consume toxic foods. According to Dr. Breslin "the sense of taste enables us to detect bitter toxins within foods, and genetically-based differences in our bitter taste receptors affect how we each perceive foods containing a particular set of toxins". His research identified taste receptors sensitive to Glucosinolate-containing vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, turnips, kale, etc. His study investigated how adults respond to these veggies. A similar study investigated how kids respond. Both found that those with the more sensitive form of the Glucosinolate taste receptors on the tongue show a definite dislike for the aforementioned veggies. Those without the sensitive form of the Glucosinolate taste receptors don’t seem to taste the bitterness of the veggies.

So how is this genetic? Recently Nova Science Now (yes I am that dorky) aired a report on this very topic. On our chromosomes contain our genes. If Mom and Dad have the gene to encode this bitter taste receptor, YOU NO LIKEY BROCCOLI! If you got a sensitive one from Mom, but non-sensitive one from Dad, you may not completely like the taste, but you aren’t completely appalled by it, and could grow to like the bitter taste. And if neither Mom or Dad have the gene, you are not sensitive to bitter and should be able to eat whatever veggies your Mom puts in front of you!

For a fabulous video (well fabulous if you are a BIG ASS DORK LIKE ME) go here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/0404/01.html

Now this is not meant to completely rule out the environment. If you are a picky eater, it is likely your kids will be too. If you are cooking these poor, innocent little veggies to oblivion (buy a cookbook already!) then they won’t taste good. I should also note that from what I have read, infants typically aren’t as picky as toddlers. So Conner may eat well now, but as he gets older we may see more of Mr. Picky Pants (but Collin and I both love almost every fruit and veggie out there so I think he will too).

In addition, the brain senses how something tastes not only from our taste receptors, but also from how food looks and smells. So if you try a different cooking method, and keep things fresh and colorful, perhaps this will aid in our preference?

It will be interesting to see if other dislikes (i.e. fish, curry) are genetically based too.

Lucy J Cooke, Claire MA Haworth and Jane Wardle. Genetic and environmental influences on children's food neophobia. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 2, 428-433, August 2007.

Mari A. Sandella and Paul A.S. Breslin. Variability in a taste-receptor gene determines whether we taste toxins in food. Current Biology. Volume 16, Issue 18, 19 September 2006, Pages R792-R794.

Kendra I Bell and Beverly J Tepper. Short-term vegetable intake by young children classified by 6-n-propylthoiuracil bitter-taste phenotype. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 1, 245-251, July 2006.



  1. Hanna Says:

    Hmmm...I don't think its all genetic. I have known people to be picky when their parents never were. But kids do get to a certain stage when they are picky, not all but some do. My niece was very picky at one point but it wasn't due to taste. It was about appearance. If the food looked weird or had a funny texture to it, she would refuse to eat it.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    All i got from this was that the study was conducted by Dr. Cooke, from that point on, all i could think about was Dr. Cooke doing studies about food...haha

  3. Rima Says:

    Thank God in heaven for this post! Now I don't feel so guilty for not cooking. I eat everything, and Jason is a notoriously picky eater. Nadia doesn't eat anything that is not beige, and Audrey eats everything and then some. So go figure.

  4. Pam Says:

    Not that I have much to say other than, even tho' my mom loves green bell peppers, there is no power on this earth that can make me eat them. I don't know if my dad ate them or not - I was too busy refusing to eat them - in any way, shape or form!
    I actually HAD to post a comment so I stopped getting those "evil mother-in-law" remarks. If Amber starts with those, Collin may very well have some evil step-mom memories and it could all go downhill quickly!

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