Background: The present study aimed to determine if salty and sweet taste preferences in children are related to each other, to markers of growth, and to genetic differences.
Methods: We conducted a 2-day, single-blind experimental study using the Monell two-series, forced-choice, paired-comparison tracking method to determine taste preferences. The volunteer sample consisted of a racially/ethnically diverse group of children, 5-10 years of age (n = 108), and their mothers (n = 83). After excluding those mothers who did not meet eligibility and children who did not understand or comply with study procedures, the final sample was 101 children and 76 adults. The main outcome measures were most preferred concentration of salt in broth and crackers; most preferred concentration of sucrose in water and jelly; reported dietary intake of salty and sweet foods; levels of a bone growth marker; anthropometric measurements such as height, weight, and percent body fat; and TAS1R3 (sweet taste receptor) genotype.
Results: Children preferred higher concentrations of salt in broth and sucrose in water than did adults, and for both groups, salty and sweet taste preferences were significantly and positively correlated. In children, preference measures were related to reported intake of sodium but not of added sugars. Children who were tall for their age preferred sweeter solutions than did those that were shorter and percent body fat was correlated with salt preference. In mothers but not in children, sweet preference correlated with TAS1R3 genotype.
Conclusions and relevance: For children, sweet and salty taste preferences were positively correlated and related to some aspects of real-world food intake. Complying with recommendations to reduce added sugars and salt may be more difficult for some children, which emphasizes the need for new strategies to improve children's diets.