From what cravings during pregnancy mean to how to deal with them healthfully, here’s what experts know—and what’s simply hearsay.
Cravings and pregnancy seem to go together like peanut butter and chocolate—or pickles and ice cream. Are these overwhelming urges to eat certain foods caused by pregnancy itself? And, if so, how much should you pay attention to them? Doctors believe that food cravings may be the result of hormonal changes that can heighten your pregnancy smell sensitivity and alter your perception of taste. Separate the myths from the truths about food cravings during pregnancy, and learn how to deal with pregnancy cravings today.
Q: Does every woman have weird food cravings during pregnancy including enchiladas and gooseberries?
A: Not exactly. But most pregnant women report craving unusual combinations. Generally things like sweets, fruits, fruit juices, sour fruits, salty or spicy foods, bland foods, and crunchy or chewy foods.
Q: Why do my food preferences completely change during pregnancy?
A: Your hormonal changes during pregnancy can also change your perception of smell and taste, which can bring on food aversions. If you have an aversion to a healthy food, try substituting another one that has the same nutrients.
Q: Why do I suddenly have a bionic sense of smell during pregnancy?
A: Hormones can do that during pregnancy. Strong smells, like brewing coffee or perfumes, can bother you more now, or even make you feel queasy.
MYTH: If you’re pregnant, you’ll soon start to crave something.
Although food cravings during pregnancy are common, they’re not guaranteed. Between 50 and 90 percent of expectant moms experience food cravings during pregnancy. Neither having them nor not having them doesn't mean that there’s anything wrong with your pregnancy.
MYTH: Most pregnant women crave the same few foods.
Research finds that exactly what a mom-to-be gets a yearn to eat varies by culture. Sweets, dairy, starchy foods, and fast foods are more commonly craved than salty or savory foods in the U.S. One study of Tanzanians, in contrast, found that meat and mangoes were the big craves.
MYTH: Moms-to-be crave nutrients their diets lack.
There’s no good evidence that, say, wanting ice cream means you need calcium, researchers say. You shouldn’t go by your pregnancy cravings to determine your pregnancy diet. Stick to a well-rounded diet as much as you can.
TRUTH: You might wind up craving a food you dislike.
Scientists aren’t completely sure what triggers a mad desire for, say, sardines. Shifting hormones in pregnancy seem to play a role—they can alter your sense of smell and taste, influencing your preference for certain foods. Some women wind up craving foods during pregnancy they didn’t like before.
It’s also common to develop food aversions during pregnancy, which is sort of the opposite of cravings. This may be a natural way of avoiding foods that could trigger morning sickness.
MYTH: What you crave is a clue to your baby’s gender.
This is a popular belief but it has no grounding in scientific surveys or research on pregnancy cravings to date.
MYTH: Cravings increase all throughout pregnancy.
Cravings during pregnancy tend to start during the first trimester and peak in frequency and intensity during the second, then begin to slow.
TRUTH: Some women develop cravings during pregnancy for ice, dirt, and other nonfoods.
One kind of pregnancy craving definitely should be resisted. In addition to ice and dirt, other nonfoods that pregnant women have been drawn to eat include clay, laundry starch, wax, or coffee grounds. These are all examples of an eating problem known as pica. It’s not uncommon, so don’t be embarrassed, but do talk to your doctor because these pregnancy cravings can rob you and your baby of the real food nutrition you both need.
TRUTH: It’s OK to give in to your pregnancy cravings.
Within reason, that is. Food cravings during pregnancy can be linked with unhealthy weight gain, too fast. Learn how to deal with pregnancy cravings by swapping healthier choices, such as carrots for chips (if you crave crunch) or a small square of dark chocolate instead of a large brownie (if you crave chocolate). Be sure to keep your cravings safe; avoid undercooked or raw seafood, like sushi, and unpasteurized milk products, like feta cheese. Maybe avoid buying in bulk too, so you don’t have mass quantities of temptations around.