Often during pregnancy, once the morning sickness has passed, soon-to-be mothers will experience food cravings for specific foods. Family tales and Hollywood films tell of sleepy husbands running out to pick up ice cream, a cheeseburger, or something even more unusual in the middle of the night.
While there does not seem to be a documented scientific theory as to why some women experience food cravings or even food aversions, many experts hypothesize that it may be a protective mechanism of the body.
Some women find themselves with a sudden aversion to beer or wine, which undoubtedly will protect the developing fetus. Could a desire for salty foods indicate a need for the body to meet its daily sodium requirements? Most doctors would agree that cells do not exhibit a capacity to distinguish when there is a nutrient deficit and consequently unleash a food craving. However, they do distinguish normal food cravings from cravings that appear during pregnancy.
What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?
Suspicion rests on pregnancy hormones which intensify your sense of smell and taste potentially influencing food choices. Although, it may be a case of “comfort” food. Sometimes with pregnancies come discomfort, bloating, nausea, fatigue, and irritability, so a little ice cream can go a long way. Others theorize that women may normally deprive themselves of some food for weight control purposes and look at pregnancy as an occasion to dive in.
Are Food Cravings Bad?
Not necessarily! Often women will crave dairy products that contain generous amounts of protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients. A desire for specific juices or fruits, may even up your vitamin intake.
Women who have been pregnant before may even find that the cravings felt during one pregnancy are completely different than those felt during a second pregnancy. Some cravings may even change daily, with yesterday’s preferred food provoking nausea today. Often foods craved during pregnancy become intolerable once the baby arrives.
A challenge may appear when women crave nonfood items from paint chips to dirt to paper. This type of craving is known as pica. It may signal a deficiency of some sort. Problems can also arise even when eating what appear to be harmless foods in excess. Eating copious amounts of flour can obstruct the bowels or impede some nutrients from reaching the developing fetus. If you experience cravings for nonfood items or even a desire for exaggerated amounts of some foods, report this to your doctor immediately for evaluation.
What Are the Common Cravings Associated with Pregnancy?
There are numerous cravings associated with pregnancy and although every woman will have her own experience, here are some that reportedly appear among the most common cravings:
- Ice cream
- Spicy foods
Pickles are a very common food craving for pregnant women. Pickles contain 15% of the daily recommendation for vitamin K for pregnant women, so they are definitely a healthy snack to crave. However, if you aren’t a pickle fan but have an unusual craving for the salty-vinegar flavor, this may be a sign your sodium levels are low. There are numerous healthy snacks aside from pickles that will satisfy this craving, including pickle popcorn.
Foods That Pose Health Risks
Cravings or not, some foods pose health risks to pregnant women. Among these are:
- Heavily salted foods
- Herbal teas
- Raw or undercooked eggs, meats, and seafood
- Raw vegetables
- Unfermented soy food products
- Unpasteurized juices
- Unpasteurized milk as well as any cheeses made using unpasteurized milk.
- Unpeeled fruit
Remember that anything you eat can pose a risk to you and your baby, especially food carrying harmful bacteria or fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides.
Satisfying food cravings too often can also cause unhealthy weight gain if the food you crave is high in calories. Excessive weight gain can lead to high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.
Finding Balance with Food Cravings
Here are several tried and true tips to help you deal with food cravings that you may experience during your pregnancy.
Choose a Well-balanced Diet
Make sure you are eating a balanced diet. Meals should include lean protein sources, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes as well as dairy products that have reduced fat content. By following a healthy diet, you’ll be able to enjoy small portions of foods that are less healthy when cravings appear, and your baby will still receive all the necessary nutrients.
Eat Smaller Meals More Often
Eat small meals throughout the day rather than sticking to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 6 or 7 smaller meals will aid in preventing a drop in blood sugar which might trigger your cravings.
Opt for a Distraction
If a craving is persistent, wait as long as possible to satisfy it and seek out a distraction by concentrating on something else, reading, taking a short walk, or getting a task done.
Include Doctor-Approved Exercise
Try doing exercise or some physical activity daily if your doctor approves.
Choose a Snack Size
When satisfying a craving urge, opt for a mini or snack version of your desired food to reduce sugar or fat intake. You can also opt for a low-calorie substitute like frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.
Create Healthy Substitutes
Create your own healthier substitute foods for whatever it is you are craving. Make a healthy and tasty smoothie instead of a milkshake or oven-baked zucchini chips rather than a bag of potato chips.
If you are even mildly dehydrated, you may feel hungry. Drink at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water daily. Some people think water is too boring to drink. Fix this by adding citrus fruit, cucumber, or mint to it, or drinking shop bought infused water.
Get Enough Rest
Insufficient sleep can trigger hormones that increase hunger and lower energy.
In the end, it’s important that you eat well, get enough rest, and exercise if possible. Trust and inform your doctor about eating habits and cravings. If the doc isn’t worried, neither should you be! Enjoy your pregnancy and don’t deprive yourself within reason. In no time at all, you’ll be back to normal and with a bundle of joy, too.