Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are you setting your kids up for lifetimes of dietary struggle or success?

Originally I'd titled this post, Operation Palate Plasticity, but then as I wrote it, I realized it's only the supporting part of this story.

So where to begin. Well, we've got 3 little girls, and I've certainly learned both from experience and from reading medical literature, that if there's a food they reject, the best way for us to get them to eat it is to try, try, try, try, try (and add a whole pile more tries), again.

Our home's rule is simple. You have to eat one bite of everything that's put on your plate. If you don't like it after a bite, you don't need to have more, and there's always at least a few different choices per meal (but second meals aren't prepared to replace wholly rejected first ones).

My oldest probably took 30 runs at green leafy salads until she started eating them without pause. My middle kid, 30 runs at sweet potatoes. And the baby? So far she still eats pretty much anything.

Apparently kids' palates are rather plastic, and just like I tell the girls, if you try a food enough times, eventually your tongue will learn to like it.

Well one day a little over a month ago I got to thinking. I wonder if my palate's got any plasticity left?

To test it I chose coffee.

Once upon a time I had been a classic Canadian double-double drinker. By med school I'd swapped cream out for whole milk. Opening up my practice here I swapped down to skim milk and Splenda, but I never could go black.

I tried here and there, but I found black coffee to be more than repulsive. I found it bitter, angry and at odds with my mouth.

Given I drink coffee daily, usually 2 cups, I figured what better item than hideously black coffee to to test whether or not I could retrain my taste buds.

July 29th I started the experiment. The coffee was vile. Hate my mouth vile. I suffered through 2 vile coffees daily for a few weeks, and then, somehow, they went from being absolutely vile, to just being bad. A week later, and suddenly they were tolerable, and as I sit and type now, I'm enjoying my black coffee greatly.

60 cups of coffee is what it took to retrain my palate.

I'd estimate that 60 cups is somewhere on the order of 1,800 sips (comparable in a sense to our one bite rule). So in my n=1 personal experiment, my adult palate appears to be 60 times less plastic than my kids'.

So where am I going with all of this?

I'm going to our children, and not just mine, but yours too.

If children grow up in homes where their palates are trained to enjoy highly processed, highly salted, nutritionally bereft boxed foods, take out meals and restaurants, what chance do you think they'll have at retraining their palates as adults to enjoy more healthful fare? What chance do you think their kids will have?

Eighteen hundred reintroductions is what it took to retrain my adult palate.

Do you think there are many adults who'll bother doing that with anything?

Wouldn't it be easier to train your kids' palates right from the get go setting them up for lifelong dietary success, rather than take the processed and restaurant way out and set them up for a potentially lifelong dietary struggle?

I sure think so.

(A bit more on this tomorrow.)