My mom was one of those parents who was always asking us to try new foods. And the items I won’t eat today can be counted on my fingers. But many of us are “very selective” eaters, especially when we are children. Why?
“Picky Eating: Is it Nature or Nurture?” by Renee Morad addresses this issue. The article explores a new study that suggests our genes play a role in our food choices. University of Illinois researchers examined the DNA in saliva samples from 153 preschoolers and performed genotyping to help identify if picky eating could come from genetics, rather than an external influence like a parenting style. Their study, published in the Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics, reported that “two genes responsible for sensitivity to bitter taste could play a role in picky eating.” This may be the first direct relationship between eating and genetic variation. “You can’t blame genetics for everything,” says Soo-Yeun Lee, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois and a study author, but the information can “help to understand your children better and give them more flexibility.” For example, if a child is extremely sensitive to bitterness, it could be hard for him or her to swallow. Since there may be more genes at work here, this is an area that seems ripe for further study.
Until there are more answers, what can parents do? First, be persistent — it may take as many as eight to 10 exposures of a new food, Lee says. But she does not recommend threatening. “Having to go through the punishment” of eating something healthy in order to get a reward “is not a long-term positive strategy,” Lee explains.
Better news is that picky eating can be “unlearned,” says Rachel Goldman, a New York City–based psychologist and a clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine. But it’s best to tackle the situation early. “If we think about ‘neophobia,’ the fear of new foods, the longer individuals avoid those new foods, the more anxiety-provoking it will become,” Goldman explains. Exposure can be effective when its in small increments, and don’t pressure too much. “Be patient and persistent,” Goldman says.
Of course, picky eating can be a child’s way of asserting independence. Offering some healthy choices while the phase plays out and acting as a positive role model yourself can be a big help, too.
Perhaps the best advice is simply be understanding as well as persistent.
Read the complete article, including a lesson in genetics, at http://www.ozy.com/acumen/picky-eating-is-it-nature-or-nurture/81893?. The photo came from that website.