The ability to perceive flavors begins in utero with the development and early functioning of the gustatory and olfactory systems. Because both amniotic fluid and breast milk contain molecules derived from the mother's diet, learning about flavors in foods begins in the womb and during early infancy. This early experience serves as the foundation for the continuing development of food preferences across the lifespan, and is shaped by the interplay of biological, social, and environmental factors. Shortly after birth, young infants show characteristic taste preferences: sweet and umami elicit positive responses; bitter and sour elicit negative responses. These taste preferences may reflect a biological drive towards foods that are calorie- and protein-dense and an aversion to foods that are poisonous or toxic. Early likes and dislikes are influenced by these innate preferences, but are also modifiable. Repeated exposure to novel or disliked foods that occurs in a positive, supportive environment may promote the acceptance of and eventually a preference for those foods. Alternatively, children who are pressured to eat certain foods may show decreased preference for those foods later on. With increasing age, the influence of a number of factors, such as peers and food availability, continue to mold food preferences and eating behaviors.
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