Sugar Chat: Genes Help Determine Kid’s Love of Sweets
Ever notice that some kids seem to especially love sweet foods? Some kids really seem to have a hyper-reaction to sweets, with the preference instigating a very charged sweet tooth into adulthood. These kids may have a genetic tendency for a preference to sweet foods.
Most kids become familiar with “sweetness” as soon as parents introduce fruits, but there’s a huge uptick in wanting sweets as soon as parents decide to introduce candy and sweet drinks. Once kids eat these excessively sweet foods and beverages, fruit will NEVER measure up, nor will many other healthier foods.
Researchers now believe there are genetic influences on sweet taste perception. To test the theory, scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, extracted DNA from about 170 children to isolate two specific taste genes related to a sweet tooth in adulthood. It should be noted that typically sweet preferences should decline as we move to mature adulthood, with development of a more sophisticated and variable palate.
Researchers then identified another gene called TAS2R38, classified as playing a role in individual preferences for sweetness when present in children. Changes or differences in these “sweet” genes seem to dictate variable responses to sweetness. Kids, whose TAS2R38 gene made them more sensitive to bitter tastes, also seemed to make them more sensitive to sucrose (the sweetest kind of sugar). These kids were shown (through food diaries) to consume a higher percentage of their daily calories from sweet-based foods and drinks.
The researchers also unexpectedly found that increased body fat was linked to greater sensitivity to sweet taste. Experts theorize that kids with the sensitive sweet receptors may also over-secrete insulin in response to the sugar, making them crave more sugar. Since these kids also seem to taste bitter foods with heightened sensitivity, a broad number of vegetables might simply turn them off because of the bitter taste. They might be more likely to eat a dark leafy green with a more bland taste, compared to broccoli which contains goitrin – a bitter compound.
All parents should limit sweet foods in the early years, and especially limit foods with high levels of added sugars. Unfortunately many cereals and yogurts, which fall under the “good-for-you” food banner, have hefty doses of added sugar, as do juices. Most kids will want more sweet foods, as soon as artificial sweetness becomes their yardstick for assessing foods. This research shows that some kids will consistently crave sweeter foods after initial exposures.
Some quick tips:
• The new Dietary Guidelines suggest one half cup of juice daily as the limit for young kids.
• Make sure to set specific limits on treats. These foods should occasionally pepper your child’s diet and not be foods consumed daily.
• Read labels so you find low sugar versions of cereals, yogurts and other so-called healthy foods.
• Cook more at home where you can control ingredients and portion sizes.
• Find less sweet options for snacks. Fruit, nuts, a small piece of cheese, homemade muffins made with fruit puree and berries, a hard-boiled egg, hummus and cut up vegetables are great options.
• Use pureed fruit instead of sugar to sweeten baked goods.
• Have discussions with your kids about how what your child eats affects how they feel, perform at school, sleep, and perform at sports.
• Consider periodic check ins with a dietician or nutritionist who can help you manage a child who seems to want to many sweet options, or a if you have a very picky eater
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