Unborn babies and I have a lot in common. Like tiny foetuses, I love compact, dark spaces and want someone to feed me without making any effort myself. Turns out, there’s another similarity between us: We both think kale is disgusting and should not be consumed by humans.
Yes, I know kale is a superfood and is packed with tons of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, calcium, and other nutrients that help with a variety of health issues but I also know that anyone who says that it’s delicious is lying.
Many previous studies have suggested that our food preferences can begin much before our birth and can be influenced by our mother’s diet. This new research by the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab at Durham University in England goes a step further in trying to prove this by actually analysing the foetuses’ expressions when exposed to certain foods.
“(Previously researchers) just looked at what happens after birth in terms of what do (offspring) prefer, but actually seeing facial expressions of the foetus when they are getting hit by the bitter or by the non-bitter taste, that is something which is completely new,” said Professor Nadja Reissland, co-author of the study and a professor at Durham University.
The study notes that the aromas from the mother’s diet were present in the amniotic fluid and that taste buds can detect taste-related chemicals at 14 weeks and odour molecules from 24 weeks.
The researchers looked at ultrasound scans of 70 pregnant women, aged 18-40, and split them into two groups. One group was asked to take a capsule of powdered kale while the other was given a capsule of powdered carrot. The women took these tablets 20 minutes before an ultrasound scan and were advised not to eat anything else the hour before the scans.
The team also reviewed scans from 30 women, from an archive, who were not given any capsules.
Through a frame-by-frame analysis of the frequency of a host of different facial movements of the foetus, the researchers managed to assemble some (not so) astonishing results.
Some foetuses were found to be showing crying expressions twice as often when the mother took the kale capsule, compared to the carrot one or no capsule at all. The foetuses whose mothers took a carrot capsule were found to be making a laughter-like expression in the scans about twice as often as compared to the kale-consuming ones or the women who didn’t take a capsule.
Aside from confirming that kale tastes bad and makes babies cry (unborn or nearly 29-year-olds), the study comes very close to confirming that our taste preferences begin much before we’re born and can be influenced via the womb.
Beyza Ustun, the first author of the research, said the team was now looking to explore the reaction of babies after birth to the different flavours. “Hopefully we will see less negative reactions, if they were exposed to kale prenatally,” she said.
Raise your hands if you want to see a baby taste Nutella for the first time? No? Just me? Ok.