Washington: Love to have salty food? Blame it on the food you ate as an infant, scientists say.    

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in the US found that feeding babies solid foods such as crackers, cereals and bread, which tend to be high in salt, may set them up for a lifelong preference for salt.
   
Babies as young as six months develop a taste for salty food and this penchant for salt appeared to last into early childhood, the researchers found.
   
The findings suggest that early exposure to salt may make a child more likely to prefer, and consequently consume, high-salt foods throughout their lives, they said.
   
But the study showed only a correlation, and not a direct cause-effect link, the researchers noted, and more work is needed to determine whether infants who are exposed to salt do in fact go on to eat more salt as adults, and whether they develop health problems associated with salt consumption, such as high blood pressure.
   
For the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers tested the preference for salt in 61 infants when they were 2-months and 6-months old.
The babies were given a bottle containing salty water, and the researchers measured how much they drank in one minute.
   
Mothers of the infants also reported whether they had fed their babies starchy foods. While the researchers did not ask what types of foods the babies were given, starchy foods commonly fed to babies (such as Cheerios, mashed potatoes and waffles) contribute substantially to the amount of salt in their diets.
   
None of the infants liked the salt water when they were 2-months old. But at six months, the infants who had been exposed to starchy foods consumed 55 percent more salt than those who hadn't eaten starchy foods, the study found.
   
"More and more evidence is showing us that the first months of life constitute a sensitive period for shaping flavour preferences," lead author Leslie Stein said.

The researchers continued to track 26 of the infants until they were preschool age. Children who had been exposed to starchy foods as infants were more likely to lick salt from the surface of food when they were preschoolers compared with children who didn't eat starchy foods as infants.
   
However, children exposed to starchy food as infants did not actually prefer salty foods, such as pizza and French fries, more than children who were not exposed to starchy foods as infants, the researchers said.
   
More work is needed to determine exactly how humans develop a liking for salt. Babies are born with a taste for sweet foods, and their taste for salt develops later, the researchers said.
   
It's not clear whether this occurs as the biological mechanisms that detect salt develop, or whether infants simply grow to accept the taste of salt.

(Agencies)