The study, published yesterday in the British Journal of Nutrition, was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the United Kingdom's largest charity.
A Harvard University study released earlier this year showed that women who gain excessive weight while expecting were four times more likely to bear children who were overweight by age three than those who remained slimmer during gestation. But it's also been suggested that these mothers raise fatter kids because they continue poor eating habits long after giving birth, and pass these on to their children.
The new study, however, suggests that mothers who eat junk food may actually rewire babies' brains, permanently tripping neurological "pleasure centres" that make them likely to choose fatty, sweet or salty foods throughout their lives. Because their research used rats, Bayol says, it removed human social, cultural and psychological factors that could prompt youngsters to choose burgers, chips and doughnuts. "What you're left with is a true physiological link between maternal junk food diet ... and the development of appetite and feeding behaviours in the offspring."
Rena Mendelson, a professor of nutrition at Toronto's Ryerson University, says it's been well established that spices and other food compounds find their way into amniotic fluid and breast milk, both of which babies ingest through their mouths. That's how many cultural and familial dietary preferences are set in the womb and during early infancy, Mendelson says. "And so babies are predisposed to the tastes and the smells that are characteristic of the diets that are consumed by their mother."
On a purely anecdotal note, when I was pregnant with the Last Amazon, I didn’t have cravings for food as much as I had real aversions to foods - even foods which I had loved un-preggers - like pizza, beef and Brussels sprouts. I have adored pizza for years, though it was considerably exigent for me to find all veggie take-out pizzeria pizza prior to the 80’s. The vegetarian movement had very little culinary traction in North America during the 70’s.
My aversion was so strong towards pizza that my stomach would start to dry heaving the minute I was downwind of a pizza joint. Ditto for beef and Brussels sprouts. So what did I eat while pregnant with the LA? Salad, cheese, rice, lentils, beans, fish and chicken and humongous amounts of yogurt and ice cream. Frozen yogurt was like a double bonus.
So what does the Last Amazon eat today? Only chicken, fish, salad, rice, beans, lentils and for dessert – cheesecake, yogurt and ice cream. Double bonus for frozen yogurt. Rarely will she even eat beef, pasta or even pepperoni/meat pizza. The combination of meat and cheese in any variation sends her heaving and has since she was a toddler.
Now when I was pregnant with my first son it was beef, broccoli and hot peppers all the way. I just could not get enough. Often with peas and rice and a side salad. Dessert was cantaloupes or melons. Then there were lots of raw veggies with hummus. Oh, and how can I forget zaharat seasoned meat spread on a fresh pita? I could not get enough; though I did discover when carrying the boys, I needed to start my day sucking slowly on salted matzo crackers or risk studying the rim of the toilet bowl for hours. So what does man eat today? Beef, broccoli, peppers, often with rice, lentils, and beans, and preferable with a side of salad and melons for dessert….no pasta, fish and rarely chicken. Oh, and matzo, zaharat seasoned meats on pitas.
Then there’s Isaiah Sender, who has made being different from the rest of us into an art form. I ate much the same as I had with his brother but what does Isaiah Sender love? Kraft dinner, green peas and sheppard’s pie. Oh, and how can I forget hot dogs and baloney? He certainly didn’t get this kind of a palate from me. I, who never ate baloney until I was over 30 and only did because Isaiah Sender (the pre-schooler) was too cute for words when he attempted to sway me with his “green eggs and ham” approach. I could have gone happily to my grave without this particular gastronomic experience. Personally, I blame the daycare centre and myself for sending him. Here’s to hoping he will grow out of it one day.