Mei Xiang at the National Zoo snacks on bamboo, but would she prefer some sweets? (Susan Walsh/AP)

Giant pandas eat plenty of veggies, but apparently they like dessert, too.

Scientists studying the endangered bears said recently that while pandas eat mostly bamboo, which contains only a tiny bit of sugar, they showed a strong preference for natural sweeteners in an experiment.

Sweeter foods may have been part of pandas’ natural diet before human activities helped drive the animals into Chinese mountain ranges, where those foods are scarce, researchers said.

“Giant pandas love sweets,” said geneticist Danielle Reed, who led the study published in the journal PLOS One.

Understanding which foods pandas prefer may help determine which nutrients can be used to supplement their diet.

Researches tested eight pandas — ages 3 to 22 — in China. The bears were given two bowls of liquid and permitted to drink for five minutes. One bowl was filled with plain water. The other contained water mixed with one of six natural sugars. The pandas liked all the sugar solutions better than the plain water.

“It may be that bamboo is an everyday food for giant pandas, but when sweeter foods are available, they go for them,” Reed said.

— Reuters