If Kids Love Sugar, Should We Make Healthy Foods Sweeter?

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It's all about finding a "bliss point."

It's not exactly a secret that kids love sugar. And because fruits are already naturally sweet, kids should love them—right? Yet many a parent knows that trying to get a child to eat a blueberry, strawberry, or, heaven forbid, a kiwi, can launch an all-out tantrum.

So how do you get a child to reach for a hunk of honeydew instead of a bowl of sugar heavy cereal? One team at Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit institue dedicated to researching taste and smell, thinks the answer is to add more sugar to fruits, so they reach what's called children's "bliss point," Gizmodo reports.

A bliss point is, to boil it down, the amount of an ingredient—like sugar—we prefer in our foods. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to the sweet stuff, kids' crave more sugar than adults, a new study shows. "Children have a higher bliss point than adults," study author Julie Mennella told Gizmodo, "whether it's non-nutritive sweeteners, fructose, or sucrose." In other words, children like sweeter foods. (They also have higher bliss points for salt, too, the study showed.)

For the study, Mennella fed children and adults three kinds of blueberries, each with varying levels of fructose. The kids overwhelmingly preferred the sweetest option, while the adults showed little deference between the three. This is not exactly a surprise to anyone with kids—but it's valuable, the researchers point out, because it could help us rethink how we get kids to eat more nutritious foods.

 

"We have to learn how we can reteach the children's palate," she told Gizmodo. And while kids may have learned to love sugar from natural sources, such as a mother's milk, "now we have a mismatch in the environment," Mennella said. "We have lots of foods that are sweet and cheap but aren't necessarily the best foods for the child."

One way to get your kids hooked on naturally sweet foods—like antioxidant-rich blueberries—is introducing the fruit to them at a young age, before they've learned to love sugary cereals and other snacks, Mennella says. "I think the most important thing is how do we get children off to a healthy start" she told Gizmodo. Another way? A recent, separate study showed that naming our veggies the same way we might a junk food—using indulgent words like "tangy," sizzling," and "flaming"—could encourage kids and adults alike to eat healthier foods, such as fruits.

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