Self Selection of Diet by Infants

Is it true that infants have an innate sense of what food is good for them? That if left to their own devices they will naturally eat the food that their body needs? Well, in my admittedly limited experience young kids naturally gravitate towards a diet consisting exclusively of ice cream and cheerios. However, there apparently is an urban-legend-like tale floating around about a scientific experiment in which a doctor placed samples of food (of varying nutritional quality) in front of newly weaned babies. The babies were then allowed to pick whatever food they wanted from these samples without any adult intervention, and the babies chose to eat a well-balanced diet. Posters over at alt.folklore.urban tracked down the source of this tale and discovered that it does stem from a real experiment performed in 1928 by Dr. Clara Davis: 'Self Selection of Diet by Newly Weaned Infants'. However, as the article that the link goes to explains, Dr. Davis's experiment would hardly be considered 'good science' today. Doctors didn't even fully understand the importance of vitamins back in the 1920s. In fact, the entire 'babies know what's best for them' idea seems to me to be some kind of weird spin on Rousseau's concept that man in a state of nature is good, and that it's only the development of society and civilization that corrupts him (or her). So I think it's safe to say that babies should not be allowed to choose their own food. Make them eat their veggies.

Birth/Babies Food

Posted on Mon Dec 13, 2004


My daughter has only been on solids for a few months & I can say that cheerios seem to be her food of choice. I offer up veggies...sweet potatoes or corn seem to be her favorites. Those are also sweeter veggies. She likes pears, but apples...not so much. Maybe it's a texture thing. Before food...she was on a strict diet of breastmilk...she'll eat meat, but only paired w/ another fruit or sweet veggie. She LOVES soup. She doesn't like whole beans...she'll only eat them mashed. She will try to lick the area around her mouth if sweet food stray beyond her lips...but not so for peas. Bread foods tend to get crammed in all at once...there's not telling what that's about.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  02:22 PM
I've got 2-yr-old twins. And they willingly eat what's good for them. The theories these days sum up to "offer them healthy food (not junkfood) and let them eat what they want." Also that kids generally eat a balanced diet over the course of a week, and that's ok. Today it might be veggie day, tomorrow fruits, the next day meat, etc.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  02:24 PM
Right on, cvirtue! My daughter has had barely a taste of junkfood at this point (any 'junk' she has had is usually less than a 1/2 oz.) Other 'junk food' is sprinkles in apple sauce (I thought the colors would get her to eat a whole serving), cream in her oatmeal, & a tiny bit of butter on her mashed potatoes. I figure if she doesn't know the really bad junk is out there...she won't desire it! (My mom says that I thought broccoli, spinach, & mushrooms were fine, until I started school! Now that I'm an adult...I do take care to eat them.)
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  02:39 PM
I like Quizno's subs, but not Subway. I like navel oranges. I like pomegranate juice. I like mangos but not papayas. I like the McVeggie burger that I can only find in California. I don't care much for strong cheeses, unless paired with apple wedges. I try to avoid cheap meats.
Posted by bobo  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  03:40 PM
Vegetables can be replaced by warm cow blood mixed with milk. What if baby will like that.
Posted by Loxx  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  04:03 PM
I have heard recently that although that experiment actually did take place, the results were probably just misinterpreted. Rather than the babies eating foods that give them a balanced diet, rather they just got tired of eating the same thing over and over. Even as adults we know that if we are forced to eat the same thing all the time we will tire of it quickly and change to eating something else. The experiment seems quite trivial when viewed in light of that interpretation
Posted by zn833  in  Montana  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  04:15 PM
Letting a baby plan the menu is probably about as smart as letting a baby drive your car.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  05:47 PM
This kind of experiment reminds me of the ones supposedly done in ancient times where they raised children without ever speaking to them, to see what language they would speak, the assumption being that there was some orginal pure language that people would speak "naturally."
Scientific ethics having changed over the years, more recent studies have focused on "wild" children-- those who spent their early years in language-deprived environments. In general, these children didn't learn to speak much at all, which didn't prove much of anything (you'd need a control group before such observations could tell you much about language acquisition).
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  05:52 PM
It seems strange that zoologists can capture any species of animal, even newly discovered ones, and keep them alive in a zoo or aquarium. They know exactly what to feed them, how much water they need, etc.
Anthropologists tell us that humans reached their present state of physical development about 100,000 years ago. After all this time, we still cannot agree on what is the proper diet for humans.
I think the answer is to look at what humans ate 100,000 years ago. That certainly wasn't cheese, Quizno's, apple sauce or cow's milk.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Mon Dec 13, 2004  at  07:22 PM
That's not entirely true; of course you can keep animals alive in captivity, but not always entirely as healthy/colorful/whatever as wild state, depending on what nutrients or food types or microorganisms are absent in scientifically-prepared diets. Scientists (and people in general) don't always know everything! It took people ages to realize that domesticated plants needed things like fertilizer and crop rotation, and it does take a while for scientists to figure out how to decently keep animals, let alone properly.
Posted by Ponygirl  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  05:51 AM
A sandwich is the perfect food. Bread-grain group, cheese-dairy group, turkey-meat group, tomatoes-fruits/veggies...
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  08:18 AM
you think sandwich is OK, but for lot of people grew in other countries it is auwful craziness to eat them all the time. Regular meal should contain bowl of soup mandatory, then plate with cooked meat and veggies salad. Every day food should be warm. Sandwiches have too much bread, waaaay too much.
Posted by Loxx  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  10:36 AM
hmmm,well...I don
Posted by Evey,soon mother of 5...  in  Sweden  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  11:32 AM
"Sandwiches have too much bread, waaaay too much."

Don't most countries serve bread w/ dinner? It's only 2 pieces! I'm not talking about a HUGE foot-long monster sandwich piece of bread. Just 2 slices off of a loaf.

...and refined foods are really what's bad for you. mom refers to it as the 'white-death'.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  12:04 PM
My daughter would eat nothing but noodles. My son would eat nothing but cat food and dirt.
Posted by Mark  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  12:04 PM
On bread: Some countries use it as filler food, i.e. eating a lot of bread or starchy foods, plus vegetables because meat is rather expensive. And sometimes meat isn't even on the table! I know a man from China who detests char siu bao (steamed bun filled with pork) because his family made all of the kids eat a really big one (with not much of any filling) before they could even start to eat the rest of the meal.
Posted by Ponygirl  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  12:39 PM
I ate catfood once. The crunchy kind. Not something I would do again. My daughter eats hair. My husband swears she has never done this in his presence...but I have found the proof quite a few times! Hair is not something that *I* would choose for a balanced diet.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  12:41 PM
Cat food and dirt seems to be good for cats, why not for children?

Seriously, though, Captain Al, although it is known how to keep many species of captive animals alive and even healthy, there are many more whose nutritional needs are simply unknown. In my hobby (aquarium keeping) there are many specimens (newly-discovered and otherwise) that die of starvation because we can't figure out what to feed them.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  12:43 PM
Keep in mind that 10,000 years ago, I don't think humans lived for very long...and that the average human life span has increased significantly in even just the last 100 years.
Posted by Evan  in  USA  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  03:09 PM
Does anyone else thinks it strange that Loxx would suggest cow BLOOD and milk as a replacement for baby food? We're trying to make people here, not vampires.
Posted by John  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  04:24 PM
Cow blood, either straight or mixed with milk, is a staple food in sizeable parts of Africa.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  06:27 PM
Yes Evan, the average life span has increased tremendously even in the just the last 100 years but only in developed counties. The reason is not better knowledge of nutrition. It is more likely the improvements in sanitation, clean water and the low risk of attacks from predators. Look at the average life span in many third world countries. It is probably not much different than it was 1000 years ago.
Having said all that, I for one would not want to live on a Homo Erectus diet even though combined with modern sanitation and safety could give me a 120 year active life span. What would be the point of living while everyone else enjoys treats like ice cream, beer, etc.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Tue Dec 14, 2004  at  10:16 PM
I catch Blood milk diet from survivor episode, when they explained that for Africans it is the only one source of vitamins.
Posted by Loxx  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  10:04 AM
"Cow blood, either straight or mixed with milk, is a staple food in sizeable parts of Africa."

Yeah...& their AVERAGE life span isn't 72-75 years!
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  12:12 PM
Nobody's claiming a milk and blood diet will make you live forever (though it might seem like forever); only that you could live on it if you had to or wanted to.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Wed Dec 15, 2004  at  06:28 PM
The idea that "refined" foods are automatically unhealthy is almost entirely fictional. (If you live only on grains, refined versions can give you deficiency diseases, but that never happens to anyone on a normal first-world diet.)

Now, flour and sugar are empty calories, but that's just as true of honey or brown sugar.
Posted by Carl Fink  in  Long Island, NY  on  Thu Dec 16, 2004  at  12:33 PM
I have very healthy buns.
Posted by bobo  on  Thu Dec 16, 2004  at  09:46 PM
Comparisons to other countries where the people are routinely malnourished and hence do not grow properly is probably not the best comparison, Ponygirl. Chinese people who are fed meat and vegetables alnong with their rice grow to be the same size as people from other countried when similarly fed.

But I agree that we eat too much bread/other worthless carbs, too few vegetables, too much food in general...

And Megan? My daughter eats hair too... your post actually got me to this site when I looked for "baby eats hair"

Unfortunately, I still don't know what to do about that...
Posted by sharedsky  in  Raleigh  on  Tue May 10, 2005  at  05:31 AM
Sharedsky, I didn't use that as a comparison, nor did I say that the man in my example grew 'improperly'. I said that in that case, more starch and vegetables (and little meat) was used when he was growing up, because of the relative expense of meat vs. vegetables/starches back at home. I never said ANYTHING about height/weight/ fact, he's taller and healthier than my dad who was raised in the US.
Posted by Ponygirl  on  Tue May 10, 2005  at  11:03 AM
Loxx is clearly a bit confused with the cowblood thing. Perhaps this person also finds it odd that we consume another animal's milk - which I do agree is weird if given any thought - why do we do that anyways? So I guess that adding the blood made sense to them? Personally not to my taste and definietly would not provide any of the nurtitive values or fibre offered by vegetables.
Perhpas Loxx would care to explain the cowblood and also if we are expected to sacrifice said cow in our own backyard?
Posted by Krayon  in  vancouver BC  on  Sat Jun 18, 2005  at  02:46 PM
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