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Lack of green vegetable products for infants leaves bitter taste in mouth

A new US study focused on the difficulties of convincing infants to eat their greens concludes that the lack of commercially prepared vegetable products specifically targeting this age group is doing little to solve the problem.

According to the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, convincing children to eat green vegetables is difficult partly because their tastes are not always nurtured in infancy to accept the bitterness of dark green vegetables.

The inability to foster a taste for those vegetables is more often related to a lack of commercially prepared single-vegetable products available to parents and caregivers to offer their infants and toddlers, according to the new study.

The researchers pose the question that if more food manufacturers specifically targeted the toddler and infant food market with green vegetable-specific products, then perhaps there would be better all-round acceptance at the family dinner table.

"The commercial infant and toddler food market in the US does not appear to provide caregivers with an adequate type and selection of products to facilitate children's later acceptance of the kinds of vegetables they will encounter and be encouraged to consume once they have transitioned to table foods," writes Kameron J. Moding, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pediatrics, and her co-authors.

The article appears online in the current issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and is the first study to examine the prevalence and types of vegetables in infant and toddler food manufactured and sold in the US.

The researchers compiled a database of 548 infant and toddler foods sold by more than 20 US companies. They then examined the ingredients and nutrients using the US Department of Agriculture's vegetable categories and of those 548 foods in the database, only 52 were single-vegetable products.

Absolutely none of those were dark green vegetables or beans/peas.

Fruit is first

The researchers also discovered that when the baby food had multiple ingredients, fruits were listed as the first ingredient in 37.8 percent of the products.

In terms of vegetable, red and orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes were the first ingredient in 23.7 percent of products, while dark green vegetables were listed first in only 1.1 percent of products.

Infants are predisposed to accept sweetness while they must learn, through repeated experiences, to accept the bitterness commonly found in dark green vegetables, note the researchers.

However, there could be big opportunities for US commercial food providers to step up their game when it comes to offering green vegetable products specifically targeting infants and toddlers.

Currently, US food providers "may not provide caregivers with the variety and specificity of products they need to adequately expose their infants and toddlers to vegetable flavors”, says the study.

Moding and her colleagues recommend developing and expanding the commercial availability of infant and toddler vegetable products to improve the rates of vegetable consumption among children.

Previous national studies have found that about 30 percent of infants and toddlers do not consume any vegetable on a given day. The lack of commercially prepared products to help children learn to like these flavors may contribute to children's low intakes during infancy and later in childhood.

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