Do food cravings threaten to derail good nutrition during your pregnancy? Here’s how to stay on track.
For many women, powerful food cravings for certain foods come with the territory during pregnancy. You’ve probably heard tales of loved ones being dispatched at all hours to search for a certain brand of bacon double cheeseburger or rocky road ice cream to quell an expectant mom’s desire. Perhaps you’ve felt an overwhelming urge to splurge firsthand.
Truth is, nobody is sure why some women have pregnancy food cravings. “Some experts say cravings, and their flip side, food aversions, are protective, even if there is no scientific data to back up that theory,” says Siobhan Dolan, MD, assistant medical director of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
For example, you may not feel like drinking alcohol when pregnant, which is beneficial since avoiding beer, wine, and other spirits fosters your baby’s mental and physical development.
Others think a pregnant woman’s preference for certain foods such as salt-laden potato chips is nature’s way of helping them meet their daily sodium quota. However, it’s highly unlikely that cells translate so-called nutrient shortfalls into food cravings. Longing for a particular food tends to distinguish pregnancy food cravings from cravings women have when they are not expecting.
Pregnancy Cravings Are in a Class by Themselves
So food cravings are probably all in your head, a product of pregnancy hormones. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy intensify sense of smell (which heavily influences taste) and are powerful enough to affect food choices.
“It’s possible that women who are feeling nauseous, bloated, tired, or crabby due to the effects of pregnancy hormones look for foods to increase their comfort level,” says Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Some women who deprive themselves when they’re not pregnant think of pregnancy as a time to treat themselves to foods they typically avoid.”
When expecting, Zied favored foods she loved as a teen but ate far less often in the years leading up to her two pregnancies. A combination of kielbasa and melted cheese atop toasted English muffins were big with Zied during her first pregnancy. When due with her second child, she preferred Cheez-Its over anything else.
How does a nutrition professional who knows better manage cravings? By eating small portions of the lower-fat versions of one’sВ favorite foods. “When I wanted those foods, I really wanted them, so I gave in, always mindful of how much I was eating,” she says.
Food Cravings Aren’t All Bad
The foods women tend to want are, in fact, good choices. Take dairy products, for example, rich in protein, calcium, and several other nutrients, which are among the top foods women want during pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes. When Dolan was pregnant, cranberry juice was all she wanted to drink. Fortified cranberry juice can be an excellent source of calcium or vitamin C and contains an array of other nutrients necessary during pregnancy.
Food cravings typically differ from pregnancy to pregnancy. They may also change from day to day. Don’t be surprised when the food you had to have yesterday repulses you today. Sometimes, a pregnancy changes food preferences permanently. After delivering, Dolan’s love of cranberry juice turned to distaste. “Now, I won’t even go near it,” she says.
Some women find themselves with a yen for nonfood items, including ice, dirt, clay, paper, and even paint chips, a condition known as pica. Pica may signal iron deficiency. Expectant mothers may also get the urge to eat flour or cornstarch, which, despite being food items, are a problem in large amounts. Too much can lead to blocked bowels and crowd out the nutrients your baby needs by causing you to feel full. If you have any of these urges, resist eating the items you crave, and report them to your doctor right away.
No matter how strong your desire, steer clear of foods considered health risks for pregnant women and developing babies. These include:
- Raw and undercooked seafood, meat, and eggs
- Unpasteurized milk and any foods made from it, including Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, and Mexican-style cheeses
- Unpasteurized juice
- Raw vegetable sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, and radish
- Herbal teas
It’s possible to have food cravings and still provide your baby with the nutrients they need to grow. However, giving inГ‚ too often to your desire for high-calorie foods may translate into too much weight gain. Too much weight gain increases the risk of gestational diabetes and unhealthy blood pressure levels.
Here’s how to handle pregnancy cravings:
- Eat a balanced diet that includes lean sources of protein, reduced-fat dairy foods, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes. When your diet is balanced, a small portion of a not-so-healthy food won’t crowd out the nutrition your baby needs.
- Eat regularly to avoid drops in blood sugar that could trigger food cravings. Dividing up food into six small and satisfying meals can help.
- Include regular physical activity (as permitted by your doctor).
- If the urge to eat brownie sundaes is ruling your life, try taking your mind off food by waiting to eat (as long as you had a balanced meal or snack within the last two hours); going on a short walk; running an errand (but avoid the grocery store!); getting out of the kitchen; calling a friend; or reading.
- Try satisfying a candy urge with a fun-size bar instead of the king size. Got to have chips? Choose a snack size bag of baked chips to limit fat intake and overall consumption.
- Focus on lower-calorie foods. Frozen yogurt and low-fat fudge bars may do the trick when you desire super-premium ice cream. Sorbet, sherbet, and frozen fruit bars are other lower-calorie frozen treats that can stand in for higher-calorie options.
- Create more healthy stand-ins for the treats you crave. When you must have a strawberry Danish, try spreading four graham cracker squares with two tablespoons whipped cream cheese. Top with strawberry preserves or sliced fresh strawberries. Another idea: Put off running out to buy a milkshake with this blender treat: Combine low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt and orange juice and whip to desired consistency.
Medically updated June 2006.
Sources: Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition consultant and national spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association. The American Academy of Pediatrics. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Siobhan Dolan, MD, assistant medical director, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation; assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, Ninth Edition, Shils, Olson, Shike, Ross, eds.
Table of Contents
- What Are Pregnancy Cravings?
- When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
- Common Pregnancy Cravings
- Coping with Pregnancy Cravings
From chocolate to veggies to pickles to pizza, it’s hard to predict the foods your body will want while it’s doing the hard work of growing a human being.
But what are pregnancy cravings, exactly, when do they start and what’s the best way to handle them to ensure you and your baby stay healthy? Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Pregnancy Cravings?
A pregnancy craving is an “intense desire to eat a specific food or substance that is different from a normal hunger urge,” says Gabrielle Sandler, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Health in New York. “The food is usually extremely difficult to resist.”
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In other words, a pregnancy craving isn’t your standard hunger pang—it’s an intense desire for a particular type of food while you’re pregnant, and it could strike whether you’re hungry or not.
While the cause of pregnancy cravings is mostly unknown, some theories suggest women are seeking specific nutrients they need. This is true especially if they’re craving things that aren’t actually food, like clay or soil—which is a condition called pica that can be caused by an iron deficiency.
Other theories, though, suggest that pregnancy cravings are the result of psychosocial factors, such as pregnancy giving you “permission” to indulge in ways that are not socially acceptable at other times.
When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
For some people, pregnancy cravings start in the first trimester. However, since that’s a likely time for morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting, the diet focus tends to be more on what sounds edible than what the pregnant person is actually craving. A lot of people lean on carbohydrates in the first trimester—like dry toast and crackers, for this reason—but that’s different from a full-blown, can’t-live-without-it pregnancy craving.
“Peak cravings usually occur during the second trimester,” Dr. Sandler says, noting that cravings can continue through the end of pregnancy, but they’re usually not as intense.
Common Pregnancy Cravings
The type of food you crave during pregnancy isn’t biological—though it can feel like it is—but rather specific to culture and context, says Dr. Sandler. “In the United States, for example, sweet foods, fruit and dairy products are the most frequently craved products,” she says. While the research on why pregnancy cravings tend to be different across cultures is somewhat limited, it could be based on what food items are available or considered “celebratory” in specific countries or regions.
Pregnant people in other countries may crave foods that are staples in their own country’s cuisine or simply opt for foods high in nutrients—a study of more than 500 pregnant people in rural Tanzania, for example, found they didn’t crave “junk food” at all, but instead had a strong desire for meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and whole grains  Patil, C. L. Appetite sensations in pregnancy among agropastoral women in rural Tanzania. Ecol. Food Nutr. (2012):51, 431–443. .
Some of the most commonly reported pregnancy cravings in the U.S., according to research in Frontiers in Psychology, include  Orloff, N. Hormes, J. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;1076. :
- Sweets or desserts (especially chocolate)
- Starchy carbohydrates
- Fruit juice
- Fast food
People tend to crave savory foods less, the research found, but if those cravings do arise, they tend to be most common in the first trimester.
Coping with Pregnancy Cravings
Indulging in pregnancy cravings once in a while is completely fine, according to Dr. Sandler.
“Studies have demonstrated that although pregnancy cravings can contribute to an increase in calorie intake, a limited amount of indulging does not appear to impact overall food consumption, nor is it associated with excessive gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes or poor outcomes in neonates [newborn babies],” she says.
At the same time, some of the most commonly craved foods aren’t exactly healthy. So if you find yourself dipping into the cookie jar or stopping by the drive-thru at your local McDonald’s on a daily basis, what should you do about it?
If eating unhealthy food is turning into a habit and you have a hunch that it’s starting to wreak havoc on your health, Dr. Sandler recommends:
- Contextual strategies. “Remove craved foods from the environment [and] removing yourself from an environment where you may encounter the foods you crave,” are two effective strategies to try, she says.
- Behavioral strategies. “Eating frequently to avoid hunger, drinking more water, substituting craved food with a healthier choice or consuming a small portion of the craved food can work well,” says Dr. Sandler.
- Psychological strategies. Psychological strategies mostly involve keeping yourself busy, Dr. Sandler says, but you can focus on specific thoughts, too. “Keeping busy can distract you from food cravings, or you can consider how indulging in the craved food might impact your health or your baby’s.”
You can always talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about pregnancy cravings, especially if you’re concerned about weight gain or craving food products that are considered unsafe in pregnancy, such as alcohol, raw fish or deli meats.
“You should also talk to your doctor if you’re craving substances that are not food, including soil, clay, pottery, laundry starch, raw rice, flour or ice,” she says. “The latter category may be a sign that you are nutrient- or iron-deficient, which warrants a further work-up.”
Remember, pregnancy cravings are a normal part of being pregnant. While it’s fine to indulge in them from time to time, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you feel like your cravings are unhealthy for you or your baby.
What to Eat When You’re Pregnant by Dr. Nicole Avena guides women through the stages of pregnancy with suggestions for nutritious foods that support the baby’s development. Courtesy of Ten Speed Press hide caption
What to Eat When You’re Pregnant by Dr. Nicole Avena guides women through the stages of pregnancy with suggestions for nutritious foods that support the baby’s development.
Courtesy of Ten Speed Press
Eating healthy in this day and age is a challenge. And the pressure is on if you’re a pregnant woman given that you’re eating for two.
But the nausea, exhaustion and mix of unpredictable hormones – not to mention the anxiety of preparing to go through labor and becoming a parent – make balanced nutrition pretty daunting.
I’m 27 weeks along now and even though I loved the second trimester (no more throwing up seemingly everywhere), I still found myself wondering what to eat and why. How much salmon is too much? Too little? And how on earth can I still be hungry?
Enter Nicole Avena, and her new book, What To Eat When You’re Pregnant.
Refreshingly and straight-forwardly, Avena explains the science behind the food pregnant women need and when, week by week, they need it.
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“There’s plenty of information about things to avoid. I knew I shouldn’t eat raw hot dogs and sushi,” says Avena, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who specializes in nutrition, diet and addiction. “But it just seemed like there wasn’t really anything beyond that in terms of what foods were good to eat and why.”
So Avena, who wrote the book while pregnant with her second daughter (born in June), created an eating guide. She’s organized it by week, highlighting a food that contains nutrients the baby needs at that stage in development. It’s mostly fruits, vegetables and protein, but there’s some fun thrown in, too. (Spoiler alert: week 17 is chocolate.)
I’m devouring this book in its small, digestible bites. In week 21, when nausea unexpectedly returned and eating anything seemed like a potential minefield, Avena’s recommendation for raspberry smoothies was a welcome alternative to plain crackers and toast. And in week 22 when even the idea of cooking anything for dinner brought on an intense desire for a nap, her recipe for roasted broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrot with paprika helped get me back in the kitchen.
A Week-by-Week Guide to Support Your Health and Your Baby’s Development
by Nicole M., Ph.d. Avena and Georgie Fear
Paperback, 230 pages |
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Avena says this was intentional: She focused on making the recipes in her book approachable, with familiar ingredients.
“You can’t control a lot of things going on with a pregnancy,” she says, “but you can control how you feel in terms of food.”
Take cravings, for instance. Avena says they are no different in pregnancy than at any other time.
“The big [misconception] women have,” she says, “is that if they get an urge for something it’s the baby saying ‘Oh I need carbs’ or ‘I need protein.’ “
In fact, it’s the environment that’s usually cuing the brain to desire food, the same way it’s cuing everyone else.
“You get this idea or memory or you smell a smell or see a commercial that reminds you of that food and you say, ‘Oh boy I’d really like to have that right now,’ ” she says.
Hormonal fluctuations can make those cravings harder for pregnant women to control, but Avena says making excuses is a slippery slope.
“I don’t think most women set out to eat for two,” she says, “but I do think we often fall into the mindset of having the license to eat whatever we want because our budget in terms of calories has gone up now that we have a baby on board. And that’s just really not the case.”
In fact, she says, you don’t need any extra calories during the first trimester. In the second and third you only need to add a few hundred each day, and that (unfortunately) doesn’t mean ice cream. Avena says adding an apple with peanut butter to your day will do it.
When cravings do strike, she recommends trying to identify what exactly you’re after. If it’s crunch, then reach for carrots or almonds. If it’s sugar, try frozen banana-chocolate-peanut butter bites (this recipe is close to the one in Avena’s book).
And while controlling cravings can be a challenge, Avena says it’s worth it in the long run to avoid excess weight gain.
“Until pretty recently the idea was the damage was being done to mom,” Avena says. “So if mom gained 65 pounds when she’s pregnant it’s up to mom to lose 65 pounds.”
But she points to recent research on what can happen to the baby when mom puts on too many extra pounds.
Can Mom’s Pregnancy Diet Rewire Baby’s Brain For Obesity?
“All this extra weight may be affecting baby’s brain development and how they’re going to behave later in life,” she says. “Studies – at least in rats – are suggesting that there are changes in the brain that occur when baby rats are exposed to excessive amounts of junk food during pregnancy that can alter the reward systems in the brain.” And that could put a child at higher risk for obesity later in life.
OK, OK, but that doesn’t mean you have to push aside all treats, right?
Not at all, says Avena. When she struggled with high blood pressure during her pregnancy she indulged in dark chocolate to help mitigate it. “If you focus on just eating good foods and stay away from the negativity associated with avoiding things,” she says, “it’s going to make eating well so much easier and more enjoyable, and is certainly going to have health benefits for you and the baby.”
Even a glass of wine or a beer with dinner is generally condoned nowadays. (Of course, check with your doctor first.)
“I’ve had friends and colleagues tell me that when they get close to going into labor and are getting really anxious, obstetricians or midwives will tell them to have a beer,” Avena says. “A, it just relaxes them and B, it just sets you into this mindset of, ‘OK I’m toward the end [of this pregnancy] and it’s going to be OK.’ “
Nicole Beemsterboer is the senior producer of NPR’s investigations team.
The better you eat during your pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby will feel. Learn the ins and outs of how you can address weird pregnancy cravings and how to adopt a positive mindset toward them.
What are pregnancy cravings?
We all know that proper nutrition is important during pregnancy, but sometimes cravings can make healthy eating challenging. During your pregnancy, appetites can be all over the place, and you might find that you have sudden, stronger food cravings. From one day to the next you may find yourself interested in odd combinations of flavors and textures—maybe never even the same thing twice. In fact, pregnancy cravings are one of the earliest and most common early pregnancy symptoms.
It’s generally thought that you can blame your weird cravings on the hormones surging through the body throughout pregnancy. Researchers aren’t totally sure what causes pregnancy cravings, but hormones, your body’s need to quickly ramp up blood production and the desire for comfort foods may all play a role.
When do pregnancy cravings start?
Pregnancy cravings will start in your first trimester and peak during your second, then peter out throughout your third. If you don’t experience pregnancy cravings—weird or otherwise—that’s OK, too. Since everybody is unique, you may not experience them at all, or they may start later than the first trimester.
5 ways to manage pregnancy cravings
Although it’s great when your pregnancy cravings are for healthy foods, it’s not so great when you crave the unhealthy stuff consistently. It’s important to remember that cravings are a totally normal part of pregnancy, and it’s absolutely okay to give in to them, as long as your overall diet is healthy. A little bit of chocolate never hurt anybody!
Here are some helpful ways to manage pregnancy cravings if you or your doctor become concerned about them.
1. Tap into the power of breakfast
It’s easier to avoid the mid-morning pregnancy cravings when you’ve had a healthy balanced breakfast. If you’re feeling a lot of morning sickness or an aversion to breakfast foods and it’s making the first meal of the day difficult, remember that any food can be breakfast food if you eat it as your first meal of the day! Try out leftovers, easy-to-digest soups, or even simple foods like toast. You can also consider employing this food trick often used on picky eaters: hide nutrient-dense foods in a healthy smoothie or yummy zucchini bread.
2. Make it a true treat—with a dash of healthy
So, you’ve got your mind set on that ice cream sundae—go for it! Why not include a banana or some heart-healthy walnuts? Or is a burger more up your craving alley? No problem! Add a side salad to help fill up on nutritional calories as well. Go ahead, have a doughnut or a sliver of that double-chocolate cake as a treat every now and then, but try not to make it a constant habit. Instead, make it feel like a treat that you fully enjoy instead of an everyday staple after each meal.
3. Try to make healthy swaps
If you’re craving something sweet, indulge in some fruit dipped in dark chocolate. Looking for a crunchy snack? Kale chips can replace potato chips and be just as tasty. Or, baked brown rice crackers with hummus are a good fiber-rich option. At meals, you can swap out unhealthy choices for more nutrient-rich options, such as baked oatmeal instead of danishes, or a tortellini broccoli salad instead of a giant plate of spaghetti. If that spaghetti is really calling your name though, swap white pasta for whole wheat, and add (or blend) some veggies into the pasta sauce. And voila! You’ve made easy food swaps to ensure that you and your little one are getting the good stuff you both need.
4. Practice portion control with snacks
A small slice of cheesecake or a single cookie can satisfy your food cravings during pregnancy while keeping you in control as well. One way to avoid the call of junk food is if you plan your snacks ahead of time. It’s smart to keep cheese, nuts, low-sugar granola bars, fruits and vegetables prepped and ready to take on the go. That way you won’t be as tempted by quick, less-than-nutritious fixes when you’re out and about.
5. Practice intuitive eating
Trying to avoid what you’re craving can lead to eating a bunch of other things you didn’t want in the first place. Give yourself permission to eat the food you really want, but do so in a thoughtful and controlled manner. Try to sit for every meal and snack instead of noshing as you rush around. Be mindful with how every bite smells, tastes and feels in your mouth. As a bonus, eating slowly reduces the likelihood of swallowing air and decreases the likelihood of unnecessary burps or gas. Eating mindfully ensures that you can satisfy your taste buds without feeling the guilt. Likewise, be patient with yourself when you’re feeling tired. Give yourself a pass on cooking elaborate meals and drop the guilt about not eating as healthfully as you had planned. If possible, hang up the apron and try to rely on partners or loved ones to cook and prep meals while you take some much-needed rest—you deserve it!
Can prenatal supplements help with pregnancy food cravings?
While food cravings during pregnancy are common, the thought of not getting your fill of lean proteins, filling fiber and vitamin-packed veggies might lead you to worry that you and your baby aren’t getting enough essential nutrients.
A simple way to help ease worries about less-than-nutritious pregnancy cravings and proper nutrient intake is to make sure you’re taking your prenatal supplement every day. This way, you know that even if your favorite healthy foods are taking a backseat for a few weeks, you’re making sure you get your daily intake of important prenatal nutrients like iron (to support brain development) and folic acid (to help form baby’s neural tube).
Embrace the changes in your cravings and body
One important thing that’s easy to forget in this day and age is that food is fuel, and ultimately, you know your body best. Having cravings for unhealthy foods and having your body change during pregnancy is nothing to feel ashamed about, and depending on your outlook, can be a beautiful thing.
Psychologically, it can be rough terrain to maneuver such quick changes to your body shape and what you want to eat. And it’s hard to predict; you may have been the healthiest eater in the world but now all you crave is pizza and candy! Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to have conflicting feelings about these intense cravings and rapid changes to your physique, but it can be helpful to reach out to a loved one that you know will be supportive and hear out your worries.
Ultimately, rest assured that the only thing you have to worry about is to eat as well as you can and keep in touch with your doctor on your eating habits. If your doctor isn’t worried, then there’s no need for you to be worried.
Pickles and ice cream, candy, burgers or juicy steaks might be at the top of your pregnancy cravings list. It’s best to embrace the changes to your food desires as they happen, try to stay in front of the craving spirals, and know you’ll be back to your old self soon enough. Still curious about pregnancy nutrition and foods? Check out some foods to avoid while pregnant.
Food cravings are sudden urges to eat a particular type of food. They are a real phenomenon and affect many women during pregnancy.
Sometimes cravings are for common foods such as chocolate cake or apples, and sometimes there is an urge to eat unusual food combinations or a type of food that you normally don’t like.
Common food cravings include ice cream, chocolate and other sweet foods, fish, dairy products and fruit.
Why do cravings develop?
No one really knows why food cravings develop. It seems logical that cravings might be due to something lacking in the diet, or an increased need for certain vitamins and minerals. However, there is no evidence of a link between cravings and nutrient deficiency.
In addition to food cravings, many pregnant women also develop a sudden dislike or aversion for certain strong-tasting foods.
Food cravings and sudden food aversions may have something to with the effects of pregnancy hormones, which can change the way some foods taste and smell.
What to do about cravings
It is OK to give in to the occasional food craving, as long as you continue to eat a good variety of healthy foods.
If you are craving a lot of unhealthy foods, such as sweets or chocolate, try not to over-indulge. Too much sugar can cause excessive weight gain and dental problems.
Some tips for managing unhealthy cravings
- Eat regular, healthy meals, to help prevent sudden feelings of hunger.
- Keep your pantry stocked with healthy snacks to eat between meals.
- Don’t do the grocery shopping when you are hungry.
- Choose healthy, low glycaemic index (GI) foods that keep you full for longer. Examples include unsweetened rolled oats (porridge), wholegrain breads, baked beans and fresh fruit.
- Get plenty of sleep. Research has shown that people who are sleep deprived tend to crave junk food more often than healthy foods.
Foods to avoid
When you are pregnant, there are a number of foods that should avoid. Things like soft cheeses, sushi, raw eggs and undercooked meat can contain harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. and lead to harmful illnesses such as listeria or toxoplasmosis. Read more about the foods to avoid during your pregnancy.
There is no safe level of alcohol that you can have during your pregnancy. Whether you are planning a pregnancy, already pregnant or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option as alcohol can harm your unborn baby.
Some pregnant women develop a craving to eat substances that are not food, such as chalk, clay, laundry starch or soap. This is a condition called pica, and it may indicate a mineral deficiency or severe anaemia. Pica is thought to be fairly rare in well-nourished women from developed countries such as Australia.
See your doctor, midwife or nurse if you develop cravings for non-food items.
So you’ve made it through the first-trimester morning sickness and your appetite has finally returned. Yes, it’s nice not to feel sick all the time, but now you’re craving sweets and junk food instead. Those three pieces of 8-layer red velvet cake you ate yesterday after lunch certainly weren’t good for you and your baby. We know, it can be really hard to resist these cravings. But if you do, you and your baby will be happy and healthy through all nine months of your pregnancy. To help you with this goal, we’ve assembled a list of the 10 best ways to curb pregnancy cravings and keep sugar and sweets out of your head.
1. Snack On Healthy Foods
You’re going to get hungry between meals and you’re going to crave sweets and sugar. It’s inevitable. But you can outsmart these cravings by keeping plenty of healthy snacks on hand. We recommend setting healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and raw vegetables out on your counter or desk within easy reach. That way, when you have visions of cupcakes dancing in your head, you can grab an apple instead. We know that an orange isn’t as exciting as a peanut-butter-filled candy bar, but it is much, much healthier for you and your baby.
2. Drink More Water To Curb Pregnancy Cravings
Drinking at least 8 cups of water every day is very important when you’re pregnant. Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration. This dehydration can trick your body into thinking that it needs a dozen chocolate chip cookies when all it needs is a big glass of water. That’s because the symptoms of dehydration—sleepiness and low energy—are similar to those of hunger. We suggest that before you give in to a craving, try drinking a cup of water and waiting 10 minutes. Filling your stomach—even with just water—is often enough to kick those pregnancy cravings to the curb where they belong.
3. Eat Breakfast Every Day
We’ve all suffered from those cravings that creep in around 10 a.m. and plague us until lunch. What’s the solution? Starting your day with a healthy, well-balanced meal. This will keep you from feeling the need to snack on unhealthy foods between meals.
A healthy breakfast can take many forms, but we recommend a small bowl of oatmeal, a hardboiled egg, an orange, and a glass of milk. You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen making all kinds of fancy dishes. Keep it simple and you’ll be more likely to eat breakfast every day.
4. Distract Yourself With Exercise
If cravings typically rear their ugly head around 3 in the afternoon, try distracting yourself with light exercise. We recommend scheduling a short walk for the times when your cravings become most intense. It doesn’t have to be a long walk by any means, just long enough to get your blood moving and get your mind off the chocolate mousse pie in the fridge.
6. Get Emotional Support
A good support network of Moms who’ve been through the pregnancy-craving minefield can help you get through it too. When you feel the need to stuff your face with a bag of snack-size candy bars, call or text a friend instead. Just talking to someone else about their craving experiences can get your mind off your own need for junk food.
7. Don’t Shop For Groceries On An Empty Stomach
Eating a healthy meal or snack before grocery shopping is a good idea for pregnant and non-pregnant women alike. We’ve heard countless stories of women giving in to their pregnancy cravings at the sight of the cookie aisle. We recommend always eating at least a healthy snack before you go to the market. That will keep you from snacking on a candy bar as you shop.
8. Indulge With A Small Craving Once In A While
You don’t have to deprive yourself all the time. We suggest indulging your cravings once or twice a week as way to help you cope. If you do, try a small dish of ice cream instead of the whole tub. Or try a small square of chocolate instead of the whole bar (or two). Sometimes all you need is a taste to satisfy the craving that’s been pestering you for the past few days. Give in to that craving but do it in a controlled way and you and your baby will be happier.
9. Don’t Tempt Yourself
If we had to look at that box of cream-stuffed pastries every day, we’d start to crave them too. We’re going to guess that you’re no different. Avoid the temptation altogether by getting rid of all the junk food from your cabinets. Out of sight, out of mind may not always work, but it’s a great place to start. Couple that with having plenty of healthy snacks on hand, and you can fight back those cravings like the warrior-princess that you are.
10. Nap Through Cravings
Getting plenty of rest is an easy way to combat cravings. Chances are, when you’re tired or run-down, the first thing you’re going to do is reach for a bag of cookies to get recharged. To help you steer clear of this craving, we recommend taking a nap when you start to feel the need for junk food coming on. Even just 20 short minutes can renew your energy levels and curb pregnancy cravings for a few hours.
Pickles, lemons and ice cream-these are just a few of the foods commonly associated with pregnancy cravings.
According to research from the 1970s through today, 50 to 90 percent of women experience cravings for specific foods during pregnancy. The most commonly craved foods include sweets like juice, candy, ice cream, chocolate and fruit. Fatty, starchy foods-think pizza, fast food and bread-also rank high.
While pregnancy cravings may not seem like a big deal and might even be entertaining at times (peanut butter and pickles at the same time?), they are actually associated with excess weight gain during pregnancy. Gaining too much weight while pregnant can lead to adverse outcomes for both mom and baby. Not to mention, no mom wants any extra baby weight hanging around post-delivery.
The good news: it is possible to satisfy your cravings without going overboard. You have permission to indulge from time to time, but you should also keep a watch on your overall calorie intake. Here are three ways to splurge in a healthy way, plus three ways to reduce cravings.
3 Healthy Ways to Satisfy Cravings
Figure Out Your Level of Hunger
Cravings get a bad rap. They’re often associated with unhealthy foods, like ice cream and candy. Moms-to-be may feel pressured to control their cravings and not give in. If they do eat what they’re craving, they may feel guilty or try to “make up” for the snack later by eating too little. This type of thinking can lead to an all-or-nothing mentality, and that often leads women to restrict and then later overeat.
Next time you are itching to eat a specific food, stop and assess your cravings. Ask yourself these questions before eating:
- When was the last time I ate, and what did I have?
- Do I have physical signs of hunger? For example, is my stomach growling? Am I shaky?
- Am I just stressed or bored?
“Many times, cravings stem from hunger,” says Rachael Hartley, R.D., a private-practice dietitian and blogger at The Joy of Eating. If in fact you are hungry, you can satisfy the craving in a healthy way by eating a small meal or healthy snack. Don’t ignore hunger or discount it.
Give In . a Little Bit
Recipe to Try: Sweet Potato Chips
Of course, perhaps you really just want that piece of chocolate you’ve been thinking about all day. Don’t keep yourself from eating it. Pregnant or not, ignoring a craving will just make you want it more.
“Trying to not eat something you’re craving will only lead to eating a lot of other things you don’t really want in an attempt to satisfy your craving, before finally eating the thing you were craving in the first place,” Hartley says. This can lead to overeating or out-of-control eating.
Allow yourself to eat the food you’re craving, but do it in a thoughtful, controlled manner.
“I encourage clients to slow down and savor the food they’re craving mindfully, which allows you to actually satisfy the craving, often with a smaller amount,” Hartley says.
Giving yourself time to focus on the food and how it makes you feel as you eat it can prevent overeating, increase enjoyment and diminish guilt.
Consider a Healthy Swap
It’s OK to indulge in some pizza, ice cream and french fries while pregnant, but doing it regularly could lead to extra weight gain and deprive your baby of the important nutrients he or she needs to thrive. If you find healthier alternatives to your typical cravings, you can have the best of both worlds.
For example, if you’re craving fries, try baking sliced sweet potatoes with olive oil for a dose of vitamin A and healthy fats. If pizza is calling your name, throw a whole-wheat pita or tortilla on the stove, and load it with cheese, veggies and a lean protein like chicken. Want something sweet? Try berries, watermelon or pineapple for a naturally sweet treat with fiber, water to hydrate, vitamins and minerals.
3 Ways to Reduce Cravings
You might not prevent cravings altogether, but you may be able to reduce the number of cravings you have during pregnancy. Frequency of cravings during pregnancy is associated with excess weight gain, so reducing the number of times you crave foods can improve outcomes for you and your baby.
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An expert shares strategies to help you cope with cravings
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In the 25 years she’s spent helping people lose weight, Naomi Parrella, MD, has heard about a lot of cravings: for burgers and fries, sodas and candies, even dirt and chalk (more on that later).
“Cravings are so interesting because they’re really specific to the person, and there isn’t one single place they come from,” says Parella, who now sees patients at the Center for Weight Loss and Lifestyle Medicine at Rush.
Hormonal shifts — during pregnancy, menopause or a menstrual cycle — may cause some cravings. Emotional responses may cause others: If you were rewarded with candy when you did well on a test, achievements might trigger a craving for sweets into your adulthood. Nutritional deficiencies or other health conditions might also leave you wanting a particular food.
Though cravings vary widely and depend on many individual factors, they frequently lead us in the same unhealthy direction: toward sweets or other processed carbohydrates like white bread and French fries — the foods humans have evolved to love.
Because cravings can make losing weight and staying healthy so much harder, Parrella has developed strategies that help her patients deal with them.
1. Get to the bottom of your craving.
She once had a patient who was struggling to give up soda. So she asked him to write down what he was doing and feeling every time he craved it. “We needed to find out what the soda meant to him,” she explains. The patient’s journal revealed a pattern: His cravings started whenever he was upset.
Identifying this trend helped him remember that his family used soda to calm him down after he’d acted out as a child. Once he discovered this link, he realized drinking soda actually made him feel bad because of all the memories it brought up. When he had cravings, remembering that bad feeling helped him to resist them.
“If there’s an emotional reason for your craving, getting to the bottom of it can often help put you more in control,” Parrella says. “Journaling is a great way to start. It doesn’t have to be full sentences. Just get your thoughts down.”
2. Give yourself a choice.
Putting something totally off-limits can make it even more enticing. Giving yourself a choice is often a better strategy — as long as you remember all the negative effects that choice could have.
“Take a moment and say, ‘Yeah, I’m really craving that Snickers bar, and I could walk over to the vending machine and get it right now,’ ” Parrella recommends. “But before you do, walk yourself through the consequences.”
You might feel bad afterward, for example, once your blood sugar has spiked and crashed. You’ll be more likely to make unhealthy food choices later in the day. And eating the candy bar will probably increase your chances of craving it again. After you consider these consequences, you might just decide against the Snickers, even though you’re free to eat it.
And cravings are not the same as hunger, so if you decide to take a pass they will usually go away. “Some people do really well with mindfulness meditation — recognizing a craving and then watching it pass away,” Parrella explains. “Like, Oh, there it is. Goodbye!”
3. Take a month or so off.
It’s not always that easy. “For me, if I have a little piece of a nice crusty, Italian bread, I’m going to eat the whole loaf,” Parrella says. “I’ll think I’m going to have one little piece. But once I start, I can’t resist.”
In situations like these — where there’s a particular food you just can’t stop eating — she recommends cutting it out of your diet completely for four to six weeks.
When you crave it, eat something different that stimulates your senses. If you want chips, for example, carrots might satisfy your desire to crunch. (Try not to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, though; they can activate your desire for sweets.)
“It’ll be really hard the first week or so,” she says. “But you’ll become less and less excited by the food you craved. Your taste buds reset.” After four to six weeks, you might not even want the food any more.
If you put food out of sight and out of arm’s reach, you’ll be less likely to crave it and better able to resist it.
4. Try the cabinet method.
But how can you resist when your coworkers leave trays of donuts or home-baked cookies in the kitchen or breakroom? Treats that are more difficult to pass up each time you refill your water bottle?
“That’s a classic dilemma,” Parrella says. “You don’t want to tell people a treat is off-limits. But you also don’t want to sabotage people by forcing them to pass it, see it, smell it and imagine eating it several times a day.”
She and her co-workers came up with a solution. Instead of leaving treats out, they use a dedicated cabinet. Anyone can access the food, but it’s hidden.
Before, treats regularly disappeared within a few hours. With the “cabinet method,” as Parrella calls it, there are usually leftover treats at the end of the day.
“In your workplace, your home or wherever, if you put food out of sight and out of arm’s reach, you’ll be less likely to crave it and better able to resist it,” she says.
5. Pay attention to your body.
While many cravings have emotional or environmental causes, some result from what’s going on in your body.
Sugar cravings, for example, often increase around menopause, when some people’s bodies start having more difficulty processing sugar. “You can have sugar crashes really easily,” Parrella explains. “And the quickest way your body knows to solve that problem is to have something sugary.”
Iron deficiency has been linked to cravings for iron-rich foods (like beef), and even some nonfoods (like dirt or chalk). And if you’re on an extremely restrictive diet and start to crave protein-rich foods, it might mean that you’re protein-malnourished.
If you think your cravings might be related to a health problem — or if you’d like more help dealing with them — contact a primary care physician or the Center for Weight Loss and Lifestyle Medicine at Rush.
Unusual Cravings During Pregnancy
Pica is the practice of craving substances with little or no nutritional value. Most pregnancy and pica-related cravings involve non-food substances such as dirt or chalk. The word pica is Latin for magpie which is a bird notorious for eating almost anything. It is true that the majority of women will experience cravings during pregnancy; however, most of these cravings are for things like pickles and ice cream.
Pica cravings are most commonly seen in children and occur in approximately 25-30% of all children; pica cravings in pregnant women are even less common.
What Causes Pica in Pregnancy?
The reason that some women develop pica cravings during pregnancy is not known for certain. There is currently no identified cause; however, according to the Journal of American Dietetic Association, there may be a connection to an iron deficiency. Some speculate that pica cravings are the body’s attempt to obtain vitamins or minerals that are missing through normal food consumption.
Sometimes pica cravings may be related to an underlying physical or mental illness.
Common Pregnancy and Pica Cravings
The most common substances craved during pregnancy are dirt, clay, and laundry starch.
Other pica cravings include:
- burnt matches
- coffee grounds
- baking soda
- cigarette ashes
Are There Risks to the Baby?
Eating non-food substances is potentially harmful to both you and your baby. Eating non-food substances may interfere with the nutrient absorption of healthy food substances and actually cause a deficiency. Pica cravings are also a concern because non-food items may contain toxic or parasitic ingredients.
Don’t panic; it happens and is not abnormal. The most important thing is to inform your health care provider to make sure you have a complete understanding of the specific risks associated with your cravings.
Here are some suggestions to help you deal with pica cravings:
- Inform your health care provider and review your prenatal health records
- Monitor your iron status along with other vitamin and mineral intake
- Consider potential substitutes for the cravings such as chewing sugarless gum
- Inform a friend of your craving who can help you avoid non-food items
If you find that you are reaching for certain foods more often than before you were pregnant, you may be experiencing cravings. Cravings are not necessarily about being hungry, but about wanting specific food or drinks that are often very difficult to resist.
Much like the pregnancy myth of ‘eating for two’, weird pregnancy cravings are often thought of as part of being pregnant. Not everyone craves pickles and ice-cream and you may not experience any cravings at all!
If you have pregnancy cravings, they will probably begin during your first trimester and get stronger into the second. By the third trimester, they usually start to disappear.
Usually foods cravings are nothing to worry about, unless you start craving things that aren’t food. But if you feel like they are stopping you from having a healthy balanced diet, it’s important to talk to your midwife or GP.
Similarly you may find yourself going off the taste of to certain foods and drinks. Some common things that people have this reaction to are alcohol, drinks that contain caffeine, fatty foods and meat. A study has suggested that a pregnant person’s body may have this reaction to meat to protect the baby from potential toxins, triggering a dislike of the smell. Most women avoid alcohol during pregnancy and it is best to limit your caffeine intake.
What causes pregnancy cravings?
More research is needed to fully understand why cravings happen. Some theories have been linked to the fact that hormonal changes in pregnancy can alter your sense of smell and taste. Some women notice a strange taste in their mouths, which can be described as metallic. Others report having a more sensitive sense of smell and may find they dislike the smell of certain foods that they didn’t mind before. Just as these changes may cause you to no longer like some foods or drinks you used to enjoy, they can also cause cravings for others.
Another thing that might trigger cravings is the fact that during pregnancy, your body often needs more nutrients to help your baby develop. For example, it is important that you are getting enough iron, vitamin d and calcium.
It has been suggested that cravings are your body’s way of telling you that you are lacking certain nutrients. Certain other studies have looked at psychological influences on cravings such as craving chocolate because it is a well-known comfort food. It is most likely a combination of these factors that lead to a pregnant women’s urge to crave certain foods. The best thing to do is eat a varied and balanced diet in order to keep your energy levels up and make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you and your baby need.
What are the most common pregnancy cravings?
If you search for pregnancy cravings on the internet, you will find all sorts of unusual stories. Often these foods include sweet, fatty or starchy foods like bread and pizza. and salty foods. There is no harm in consuming small amounts of these foods as a treat. But it is important to make sure you control enjoy them as part of a balanced diet.
Craving non-food items (Pica)
You should contact your GP or midwife if you begin to crave items that are not food. You may have a condition called pica that can be caused by an iron deficiency and can be a sign of severe anaemia. If you have pica, you may crave some of the following, among other non-food items:
- clay or dirt
- ice or freezer frost
- pieces of paper
It is natural for pregnant women to get cravings. Some crave salt, some demand sweet food and some might even crave something as weird as chalk. Cravings differ from woman to woman, but in most cases, they aren’t a bad thing. Here’s why women crave different kinds of food during pregnancy, when it starts, and how to deal with it.
- Nutritionists believe that cravings happen due to a nutrition deficiency or hormonal imbalance.
- If you are craving french fries or wafers, your sodium levels might be low. A craving for sugar probably indicates low sugar levels.
- But there is no concrete evidence trying up these claims.
- Craving unusual things is also common. However, it is best to talk to your doctor in such cases.
There is no one-size-fits-all theory when it comes to pregnancy cravings. In fact, a lot of women might not even experience this phenomenon. For most women, cravings begin in the second trimester, although it is common to experience them in the first trimester as well. A study says that about 50 percent of US women reported craving chocolate in the week before their period.
A lot of times these cravings can translate into unhealthy eating habits. It is therefore important to be careful and make a conscious effort to eat healthy foods. Have a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. Ensure your meals include proteins, carbohydrates as well as fats. Do not wait for hunger and cravings to hit you. Instead, eat at regular intervals.
Pay attention to what you are snacking on in between meals. Choose healthy options such as nuts and fruits. However, instead of totally disowning your cravings, respect them. Yogurt and cheese dip with veggies sticks can fulfill your sweet and salty cravings. It is also important to get proper sleep as well as enough exercise. Yoga is a good option for pregnant women.
Some women have reported craving things that do not fall in the category of food, such as chalk or mud and sometimes even weirder things. This condition is known as pica and it is important to deal with it as you might end up eating something that might harm you or your baby. Immediately talk to your doctor in such scenarios.
Yes. It’s true that many pregnant women have specific or unusual food cravings, but it’s perfectly normal not to have any cravings at all.
A lack of cravings doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. In fact, if you’re not craving fatty or sugary foods you’re more likely to make healthy food choices. This will make it easier for you to get all the nutrients you and your developing baby need.
No one really knows for sure where food cravings come from. Some experts suggest that the hormonal changes that happen during your pregnancy may have a powerful impact on your sense of smell and taste. This may cause you to crave unusual foods or go right off foods that you previously enjoyed.
Some people believe that cravings arise due to a shortage of a certain vitamin or mineral during pregnancy. You’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale that says a craving for coal means that you’re lacking in iron. However, studies haven’t found any truth in this. If there was a link we probably wouldn’t get the cravings for chocolate and crisps that most of us have every now and again!
This article was written using the following source:
NHS Choices. 2014. Signs and symptoms of pregnancy. NHS Choices, Health A-Z. www.nhs.uk [Accessed May 2015]
Orloff NC, Hormes JM. 2014. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Front Psychol 5: 1076
Food cravings are almost synonymous with pregnancy. While you might not have a taste for anything unusual, chances are that you’ll have some type of craving during your pregnancy. In fact, up to 85% of moms-to-be experience at least one craving. 1 Most often cravings — or food aversions — are due to the changing hormones in your body while you’re expecting. The most common pregnancy cravings are for sweet, salty, or sour foods.
Some pregnancy food cravings can undermine your healthy eating habits, but it’s possible to satisfy your cravings and still give yourself the nutrition needed for your baby’s development. If you’re craving something that’s high in calories, fat, or sugar, look for a substitute that satisfies with fewer calories and less fat.
If you’re craving:
Try this instead:
Dealing with food aversions during pregnancy
You also might develop aversions to certain foods while pregnant, including nutritious foods that you and your baby might need for good health. If some of your favorite healthy foods seem unappealing, try these substitutions:
If you have
an aversion to:
Try this instead:
In addition to these healthier food substitutions, try adopting the following healthy eating habits for the duration of your pregnancy:
- Eat more frequent mini-meals and snacks instead of full meals. Being less hungry can help curb cravings.
- Begin with a balanced breakfast that incorporates at least one whole grain and one fruit. Skipping meals can increase food cravings later in the day.
- Work with your cravings instead of fighting them. Indulge in moderation. A small serving of the food you’re craving might curb the desire to binge.
- Maintain regular exercise (with your doctor’s approval). Exercise is shown to help reduce cravings.
1 Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During and After Your Pregnancy, 2e, Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., 2002. 133-134.
Information provided by permission from
Pregnancy cravings are very common (hence the old “pickles and ice cream” jokes). They go hand in hand with food aversions, which are also routine for expecting moms. Some experts think that cravings for certain foods are linked to a mom-to-be’s nutritional needs, but others think that pregnancy cravings can’t be explained that easily. If you’re having cravings, go ahead and indulge in moderation. But if you’re craving non-food items like chalk, dirt, or large amounts of ice, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Pregnancy cravings explained
- What do pregnancy cravings mean?
- What to do about your cravings
Pregnancy cravings explained
About 50 to 90 percent of women in the United States report at least one food craving during pregnancy. And those cravings run the gamut from sweet to salty to . strange.
We surveyed expecting moms on BabyCenter, and almost 40 percent said they mostly craved sweets. Slightly fewer (33 percent) chose salty snacks. Those who craved spicy cuisine came in third (17 percent). Trailing (at 10 percent) were those who craved sour foods like citrus fruit, green apples, and sour candy.
BabyCenter moms-to-be confessed to wanting pickles wrapped in cheese, salsa spooned straight out of the jar, and yes, even steak fat. One woman had a passion for black olives on cheesecake. Another mom told us she ate a steady diet of processed-cheese sandwiches, which she now can’t stand the sight of. Eggplant, especially on pizza, was another expectant mother’s obsession.
Many of these cravings seem to come out of nowhere, and they can feel overpowering. What causes them? Hormones, right?
Maybe in part. The extreme hormonal changes women go through during pregnancy can have a huge impact on taste and smell. (This would help explain why women going through menopause may also experience strong food cravings and aversions.) But the bottom line is that no one knows for sure.
One thing we do know is that aversions and food cravings go hand in hand. In an Ethiopian study, women who experienced food aversions were more than twice as likely to crave certain foods compared with those who didn’t.
What do pregnancy cravings mean?
Some nutritionists and healthcare providers believe that certain cravings are meaningful. For example, some experts think that craving large amounts of ice and nonfood substances, such as laundry starch and dirt or clay (a condition called pica), are linked to an iron or zinc deficiency, though there’s not enough research to support a cause and effect relationship.
San Francisco midwife and herbalist Cynthia Belew says some food cravings may be worth paying attention to. For example, alternative medicine practitioners believe that a shortage of magnesium can trigger a craving for chocolate. Foods that contain magnesium include whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and green vegetables such as spinach.
Belew has also found that many of her patients need more essential fatty acids in their diet. When they start taking fish oil or flax oil, their food cravings disappear.
Similarly, a craving for red meat seems like a transparent cry for protein. And the mom in our survey who said she consumed great quantities of peaches may have been responding to her body’s need for beta carotene.
Judith Brown, author of What to Eat Before, During, and After Pregnancy, agrees that in some cases there might be a biological cause for cravings. She points to pregnant women who develop an aversion to certain foods or drinks that might be harmful (like diet soda, coffee, or alcohol).
But Elizabeth Somer, author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, doesn’t see much of a link between a pregnant woman’s cravings and what her body needs.
“People think their cravings are significant, but studies show no link between cravings and nutritional requirements,” she says. “If people craved what the body needs, we would all eat more broccoli and less chocolate.”
And at this point the evidence – while hard to ignore – is anecdotal.
“There’s no scientific explanation for food cravings. There’s no data saying that what a woman craves is related to something her body or her baby needs, and there’s no data to support that typical pregnancy food cravings are harmful, either,” explains Brown.
What to do about your cravings
In the end, the experts we consulted agreed that you should pay attention to your pregnancy cravings – and indulge them in moderation.
“A healthful diet is one that meets your nutritional and your emotional needs as well as your preferences,” says Somer.
She recommends that pregnant women humor their cravings rather than fight them. But don’t let unhealthy cravings completely overpower your need for nutritious food. Check out these alternatives for less healthy cravings.
Craving sweets is sometimes the result of a drop in blood sugar, so eating small, frequent meals may help you avoid eating too much sugar. Other ways to curb less-healthy cravings: Eat breakfast every day (skipping breakfast can make cravings worse), exercise, and make sure you have lots of emotional support.
If you find yourself craving nonfood items, such as starch, chalk, flour, dirt, or large amounts of ice, talk to your healthcare provider. Some studies estimate that more than a third of pregnant women have similar cravings. Because some nonfood cravings can affect your health, it’s especially important to mention them to your provider.
BabyCenter’s editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you’re seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.
Did you know those food cravings during pregnancy can wreak havoc on your health? That’s why it’s important to keep a tab on them.
Handle your food cravings during pregnancy with care. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
If you’ve ever been around a pregnant woman, you must have observed that all of them have different kinds of food cravings. But unfortunately, there’s a negligible chance that pregnant women are going to crave for something healthy. Most of the time, they drool over processed and sugary foods, which is not really healthy for both the mother and the child.
During pregnancy, a woman needs the maximum amount of nutrients, as she’s reproducing an entire human being. It is seen that in the first trimester, there are major cravings for junk food that hampers the nutritional balance of the body. It also triggers weight gain!
In the second trimester, these cravings increase even more.
But why do pregnant women crave for food during their pregnancy?
Well, there are a couple of reasons that are responsible for this, but the foremost one is the shift in hormones. During pregnancy, there is a sudden rush of pregnancy hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormones make pregnant women believe that they need more food, and this leads to cravings, especially for sour, sugary, and fried food.
Take care of you and your little one! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
“Sadly, a pregnant woman has to deal with these cravings, because it’s going to happen no matter what. Some other reasons why pregnant women crave junk food is their altered smell and taste, and at times, due to nutritional deficiencies as well,” says Dr Ranajana Becon, gynecologist at Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad.
She also informs that the problem becomes severe, if the pregnant woman is dealing with gestational diabetes. Sodas, colas, and junk food are loaded with sugar and empty calories, which is not going to benefit the mother and the child in any way.
Thankfully, Dr Becon has some useful tips to keep these cravings at bay during pregnancy
1. Eat a balanced diet
Most of the time our body craves unhealthy food, because it lacks nutrition. If you eat a healthy diet and maintain the nutritional balance of your body, then you won’t crave junk food as much.
2. Eat at regular intervals
When we don’t eat at regular intervals, then our blood sugar tends to drop, and that triggers cravings. Therefore, eat after every two hours. Consume small meals, so that you don’t feel overstuffed.
3. Look for healthy and low-calorie alternatives
“Have a glass of fruit juice, a bowl of fruit-based yogurt, roasted nuts, sorbets, homemade sharbats, etc, instead of colas and soda. This way you can maintain your calorie count, and can also satisfy your craving for sweet or salty food,” recommends Dr Becon.
4. Regular exercises
Low-intensity exercises like brisk walking, yoga, meditation, etc. are a must. This will keep you active and also distract you from thinking just about food and hunger. Consult your doctor to understand the kind of exercises you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.
Having said all of the above, there is absolutely no harm in noshing on some junk food, once in a while. Just ensure that you don’t overdo it, because dealing with postpartum weight gain can really give you a hard time.
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As many women come to learn, pregnancy isn’t all peaches and cream — sometimes it’s pickles and ice cream! In fact, most women in the U.S. will experience food cravings during pregnancy.
“I have many pregnant women coming in saying that they’re craving foods like watermelon, pizza or even pickles,” says Dr. Elizabeth Mosier, OB-GYN at Houston Methodist. “They wonder if the cravings are normal and why they’re happening.”
Common pregnancy cravings and aversions
A review of pregnancy blog posts found the most common cravings include:
- Carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pretzels and cereal
- Cold foods, such as ice pops and slushies
- Fast food, including takeout Chinese and Mexican food
- Fruit and vegetables, particularly watermelon and tropical fruits
- Meats, including steak and chicken
- Savory or salty high-calorie foods, such as pizza and chips
- Sweets, like chocolate and ice cream
Many expectant mothers also have aversions to some foods during their pregnancy, such as:
- Coffee and tea
- Meat or fish
- Spicy foods
Why do pregnancy cravings happen?
“We don’t completely understand why food cravings and aversions happen during pregnancy,” Dr. Mosier says.
A few theories include the idea that:
- Fluctuating hormones may lead to sensory changes, affecting the perception of foods.
- Aversions to certain foods may help protect the mother from foodborne illness, while cravings for bland, carbohydrate-rich foods may help with nausea and vomiting.
- Cultural expectations of cravings and what is acceptable in pregnancy may lead women to crave and indulge in more foods than they otherwise would.
Contrary to popular opinion, no scientific evidence supports the theory that foods are craved due to their nutritional value.
What to do when pregnancy cravings kick in
For the most part, there’s no need to worry about pregnancy cravings and aversions. Giving in to the occasional desire won’t have a big impact on your overall health. But if you constantly give in to unhealthy cravings, you could gain more weight than recommended for pregnancy and put your long-term health at risk.
The reality is that pregnant women don’t really need to “eat for two.” The recommended increase in calories in pregnancy is only about 300 calories per day.
Excessive weight gain in pregnancy and obesity increase the risk for complications, including:
- Larger babies
- Gestational diabetes
- Preterm birth
It also can mean more weight retention after delivery, which can add up over multiple pregnancies and impact your overall health. Controlling weight gain in pregnancy helps reduce these risks.
The recommended weight gain for most women is 25 to 35 lbs. total. If you are overweight before pregnancy, that changes to 15 to 25 lbs., and if you are obese then doctors recommend gaining no more than 11 to 20 lbs. in pregnancy to decrease the risk of complications for yourself and your baby. Your doctor will monitor your weight gain and help guide you throughout your pregnancy. If you are struggling with persistent cravings (especially non-food items like ice or clay), nausea or aversions to large food groups notify your doctor.
By Sara G. Miller published 3 June 16
It may seem logical that if you crave certain foods during pregnancy, that craving is just your body’s way of telling you what it needs. But giving in to cravings may do more harm than good, a recent study finds.
The more often women in the study gave in to such cravings, the more likely they were to gain too much weight during their pregnancy, according to the study, published May 20 in the journal Appetite.
Previous research has shown that the more weight you gain during pregnancy, the harder it is to lose that weight after giving birth. And experts agree that gaining too much weight during pregnancy is the biggest contributor to postpartum weight retention. But studies have found that between 40 to 60 percent of women gain too much during this time.
“An estimated 50 to 90 percent of women in the U.S. experience food cravings at some point during pregnancy,” the researchers, led by Natalia Orloff, a graduate student in clinical psychology at the University of Albany in New York, wrote in the study. [The Science of Hunger: How to Control It and Fight Cravings]
In the study, the researchers wanted to see if there was a link between having these cravings during pregnancy and weight gain.
The researchers asked two groups of pregnant women — 43 who were recruited online, and 40 who were recruited in a hospital — to complete surveys about their food cravings. The average age of the women in both groups was similar (31 for the online group and 30 for the hospital).
The surveys included questions about how often the women craved foods from four different categories (sweets, carbohydrates and starches, fast food and high-fat food), as well as how often they gave in to these cravings. The women were allowed to fill out the survey once per trimester.
The researchers calculated each woman’s body mass index (BMI) using their height and pre-pregnancy weight. Based on each woman’s BMI, the researchers then determined the appropriate amount of weight for her to gain during pregnancy.
Cravings for sweets and fast foods were the most common, and the women also reported giving in to these cravings the most frequently, the researchers found. The most commonly craved foods were chocolate, pizza, cookies and ice cream.
And the more often women reported craving a food, the more likely they were to give in to the craving, according to the study.
When it came to weight gain, the researchers found that the more often women experienced cravings, the more likely they were to gain excess weight.
Interestingly, however, the frequency of giving in to the cravings was only associated with weight gain among the women in the online group, not the women in the hospital group. This finding was “noteworthy and merits an attempt at explanation,” the researchers wrote. One possible explanation may be that the women in the hospital group started out, on average, at a higher weight than the women in the online group, although more research is needed to look at this, they wrote.
They noted that groups were slightly different in their composition. For example, the women in the hospital group were more likely to be obese at the start of the study than those recruited online, and 93 percent of the women in the online group were white, compared with 60 percent of women in the hospital group.
But in any case, the findings suggest that weight management during pregnancy should incorporate skills that help women decrease the frequency of their food cravings, as well as offer strategies women can use to avoid giving in to them, the researchers wrote.
While it can be difficult to control when a craving pops up, studies have shown that strategies that distract a person from a food craving, such as thinking about engaging in a favorite activity or playing a game of Tetris, may help people avoid giving in to the craving.
Anyone in the mood for some hot sauce and ice cream?
When it comes to bizarre food cravings, I’m no stranger to dipping fries in a milkshake or putting honey on pizza. But while normal “I’m bored,” “I’m hangry,” or “I’m on my period” cravings are powerful, pregnancy cravings are a whole other beast.
From hot sauce with ice cream to literally munching on sand, the body can crave v weird things when growing a baby.
While scientists don’t exactly know why people have pregnancy cravings, there are a few theories: Some research suggests Neuropeptide Y, a substance responsible for appetite signals, could be increased through hormone changes during pregnancy. Other researchers, however, say pregnancy cravings are largely psychological.
Whether it’s the extra hormones or the sheer fact that you have the absolute right to send your partner out at 2 a.m. to find hot Cheetos and strawberry yogurt, when a pregnancy craving calls, you’re gonna wanna comply.
Here, 20 people share their strangest, strongest, and most memorable pregnancy cravings.
1. “My first baby all I ate was chicken pot pies—legit hundreds. I’m pregnant with my second baby and now all I want is soup.”—Ally, 29
2. “The weirdest thing was definitely spicy food for me. I normally hate it. But when I was pregnant, I ate it all—spicy salsa, Hot Cheetos, etc. I usually think black pepper is too spicy, but my tolerance was much higher when pregnant.”—Brittany, 27
3. “I couldn’t get enough margarita mix. I’d put it on ice with a little bit of soda water. It was so delicious. I actually still drink it like that!”—Emily, 29
4. “Cooked pepperonis re-heated in the microwave. I would seriously eat the whole bag.”—Julia, 29
5. “Pickles wrapped in prosciutto. I was just eating pickles when I saw some leftover prosciutto in the fridge and decided to wrap it around the pickle. I’m pretty sure that was my main food group during the first few weeks of my pregnancy.”—Werlaine, 30
6. “P. Terry’s chicken burgers and Dr. Pepper from Whataburger. The worst part was I moved to Houston, so that was ROUGH. I’d be lying if I didn’t consider making a day trip to Austin just to get my fill.”—Amy, 30
7. “COLD apples. I can’t even look at them if they’re not refrigerated.”—Katie, 28
8. “When I was pregnant I had the urge to try ice cream with hot sauce. I really wanted ice cream with salt and vinegar chips but since we didn’t have any, I figured since hot sauce had vinegar in it, it would work. The combo was. okay. Chips are better!”—Jennifer, 30
9. “Orange juice constantly. Peanut butter. Licorice, tacos, BLTs, and caesar salad. Pickle sandwiches, with the pickles as the “bread” with tuna or chicken salad inside, or regular sandwiches filled with pickles, cheese, and mayonnaise. Trader Joe’s also has pickle-flavored chips which I am obsessed with right now.”—Lauren, 33
10. “Soft pretzels dipped in honey, and sauerkraut on anything, even though it’s a food I usually have a huge aversion to! I even put sauerkraut on pizza. Thinking about it now makes me nauseous.”—Bailey, 29
11. “Undiluted lime juice, straight out of the frozen concentrate can. My husband would bring home a few frozen concentrate cans each week and I would blend it up in a blender—without even diluting it—and drink it just like juice or eat it with a spoon straight out of the freezer.”—Lauren, 29
12. “Hot Cheetos dipped in yogurt. I typically ate strawberry yogurt because it tasted tangy to me. The funny thing is now I can’t eat either one of them because I became allergic to the ingredients after my second pregnancy.”—Amber, 31
13. “Non-toasted bagels with cream cheese and cantaloupes. Like one a day. And pretty much nothing else. I ate them as a meal (not on top of each other) but just the only two items of food I ate for about three months straight. Since my daughter was born I can barely look at one!”—Holly, 34
14. “Super tart lemonade and this super spicy five-chili chicken from an Asian fusion restaurant by my house. It seemed I always wanted something extremely sour, or extremely spicy—I didn’t even care about the heartburn.”—Ashley, 35
15. “Honey on everything: like my bagels, chips, popcorn, fruit. I also must eat pomegranate every day.”—Arica, 31
16. “I came home from work and my husband caught me putting hot sauce on a spoonful of peanut butter. It ended up tasting terrible, but all day long I thought about it and had to try it. A few days later I found out I was pregnant! All throughout the pregnancy, I wanted vinegar—salt and vinegar chips were my go-to. I even tried to (unsuccessfully) make salt and vinegar ice cream one afternoon.”—Chelsea, 29
17. “I had the most bizarre craving during pregnancy: sand. Like, straight from the beach, sand. I just wanted to grind salt between my teeth. It was so odd, I told my doctor and their only advice was ‘don’t do it.’ Also, any earthy smells were euphoric. like the smell of fresh air or dirt.”—Nicole, 29
18. “I mostly craved healthy foods, but I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, I could not get enough of tomato products. Ketchup and pasta sauce. I splurged on Domino’s breadsticks and sauce once a week for months. I’m not even sorry.”—Amanda, 29
19. “The one thing I did make my partner go get immediately was English muffins! It felt so random but I ate all six of them that day in various forms. Breakfast sandwich, with butter, with peanut butter and jelly. It didn’t matter how but I needed those nooks and crannies in my mouth.”—Laura, 28
20. “When I was pregnant I couldn’t get enough mango. I literally ate 2–4 mangos a day. I was addicted. When we didn’t have any mangoes at home late at night, I remember going to my nearest Wawa hoping to score mango. I definitely preferred fresh mango, but when it was out of season and hard to find, I settled for mango-flavored drinks, canned mango, mango desserts, etc.”—Terri, 29
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
You have probably heard of food cravings during pregnancy, when pregnant women start to crave foods they’ve never wanted before. But many pregnant women also experience an aversion to certain foods; sometimes to foods they used to love!
Common Food Aversions
Food aversions are one of the 5 most common pregnancy symptoms . You can experience any kind of food aversion during pregnancy, but you may have a distinct distaste for certain foods in particular. People can have all different kinds of aversions, and they won’t all be the same. Many women experience aversions to strong-smelling foods, such as garlic. Some other common food aversions are to:
- Spicy foods
- Tea and coffee
What They Mean
Your body experiences many hormonal changes during pregnancy. The hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), doubles every day during the first few months of pregnancy, and naturally peaks around week 11. Increased hCG levels are also associated with morning sickness, and may contribute to food aversions.
Research from Frontiers in Psychology suggests that food aversions may protect a pregnant woman from ingesting potentially harmful foods. Interestingly, expectant mothers tend to experience morning sickness and food aversions within the first three months of pregnancy, when the baby is in its most vulnerable stage of growth. Women who experience food aversions tend to have fewer stillbirths, miscarriages, and premature births. The research also suggests that the psychological and cultural relationship with food may impact food aversions.
What Causes Food Aversions
Your body changes a lot during pregnancy, so several factors can be at play when you’re experiencing food aversion or nausea.
- Hormones- Your body has more hCG in the early stages of pregnancy, around the same time that you typically experience morning sickness. Increased hCG levels can leave you feeling nauseous and can make any food very unappealing. Hormonal changes can also increase saliva production, which can give your mouth a metallic taste.
- Heightened Senses- Changing hormones can also make your taste receptors extra sensitive or dull them, and they can change throughout the pregnancy. Foods you once enjoyed like garlic or broccoli are now too pungent or bitter because you’re more sensitive to their taste. Your sense of smell can also become more sensitive during pregnancy, and foods with strong smells may be overpowering.
- Confusing Nutritional Signals- Your body may be craving what it needs to feed you and your growing baby, which is why alcohol and coffee can now seem very unappealing even if you once loved them. In some cases, your body will not want food that is bad for you, but in other cases, it may also avoid food that is good for you. These confusing signals from your body may make you turn your nose up at spinach but crave sugary sweets. In pregnancy, it is common to crave something you’re not used to eating while disliking foods you used to love.
When To Expect Food Aversions
Food aversions typically occur during the early stages of pregnancy, in the first trimester. This is when hCG levels are at their highest. Most pregnant women experience at least one food aversion during the first trimester, and many can experience food cravings at the same time. However, increased hCG levels can continue past the first trimester and you may develop food aversions at any point during your pregnancy. But the good news is, they don’t last forever! Typically, food aversions will disappear after the baby arrives.
How to Cope
Most of the time, it’s normal and healthy to listen to your body and avoid foods that you can’t stand at the moment. You can also give in to your cravings, in moderation of course. But if you’re concerned that you’re missing out on important nutrition, or that you might be over-indulging, there are some things you can do.
- Disguise food – Making a smoothie or a shake is a great way to get some nutritionally-dense greens in your system without having to eat salad. Bitter spinach is easily masked by the sweetness from banana, strawberries, and other fruits. You can also cook vegetables into sauces to change the texture and flavor to make it more palatable.
- Substitute – Substitute your aversions for a different food with similar nutritional value. For example, if you have an aversion to red meat, then try a different protein, like chicken or eggs.
Food aversions are a common pregnancy symptom. If you’re experiencing food aversions, it’s usually okay to follow your instincts and avoid the food you dislike as long as you are getting enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy.
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A craving for certain foods during pregnancy has been recognised as one of the symptoms of pregnancy for years. We don’t know much about the whats and the whys of food cravings during pregnancy, but it may be due to hormonal changes, physiological changes or even the emotional rollercoaster you’re currently going through. Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time for some, and you may find yourself seeking things that make you feel secure and comfortable. For some people, that may very well be food. For some lucky women, they may only have ‘healthier’ food cravings during pregnancy, but for many more, it’s the less healthy options that often catch their eye!
What do women crave during pregnancy?
Research by Baby Centre found that most women seemed to have cravings for sweet foods during pregnancy (40%), followed by salty foods at 33%. Interestingly spicy foods were also often craved with 17% of their study’s participants saying this was what they were after during pregnancy and, lastly, citrus foods and more sour tastes were craved by around 10% of participants.
Eating well during pregnancy
We know from a wealth of research that nutrition during pregnancy (and before) is important for the health of a mother and her growing baby. The food and nutrients that you consume will ultimately go towards helping your baby to grow and develop to their best potential. On top of that, later on in pregnancy the foods that you eat will also flavour the amniotic fluid and even influence your baby’s food preferences! That’s why during pregnancy it’s more important than ever to try and stick to a healthy balanced diet.
Why do I get food cravings during pregnancy?
We really don’t know why some women get cravings during pregnancy. There may be a psychological element to it but there has been talk previously about women ‘needing’ certain vitamins and minerals and therefore craving foods that contain them. However, it’s unlikely if you have a craving for less healthy options, that your body is craving them for a nutritional need. Additionally, if that were the case, it’s likely that your body would be craving foods such as fish, broccoli and wholegrains – the foods we often don’t eat enough of in the UK – rather than the nutrient poor foods that we already eat too much of.
So it’s good to be aware of what your body is telling you, but it’s also important not to always give in to food cravings, as your diet during pregnancy needs to be varied to provide all the nutrients that your growing baby needs every day.
Dealing with food cravings during pregnancy – A nutritionist’s perspective
Of course it’s not to ever say that you shouldn’t satisfy your food cravings during pregnancy. Something I took a fancy too during early pregnancy was dark chocolate digestives dunked in tea! However, I did watch how many I ate and didn’t have them regularly as I tried to focus on nutrient-rich foods instead.
Have regular meals:
One thing that really helped me to deal with cravings, was trying to eat my meals very regularly.
I’ve always eaten fairly regularly, but during early pregnancy I made sure that I had my meals at similar times each day and planned them in advance, so I would know what and when I was eating each day. This helped me stay much more in control of my hunger levels and therefore, also in control of any cravings.
Stock up cupboards:
I was also careful to stock up my cupboards with good foods, choosing things that I really enjoyed, but trying to stick mainly to healthy options. See my pregnancy pantry blog for more information on how I did this.
Having good foods available and easy to access makes it more likely that you’ll eat them, in place of less healthy options. Yogurt was a big favourite of mine as you can have it with breakfast, as a snack or even make it into a dessert. I also used plenty of fresh and dried fruits and ALWAYS had a portion of nuts to hand.
Grab healthy snacks:
If I felt peckish in-between meals, it was therefore easy to reach for some natural yogurt some nuts and some chopped/dried fruits to keep hunger at bay and also top up nutrient stores at the same time. You can also check out my blog on Healthy Snacks During Pregnancy for more inspiration.
Try eating mindfully:
Another thing that helped me was to make more of my mealtimes. Previously I was very guilty of eating whilst tapping away at my laptop, whilst rushing out the door or sometimes reading a book/research paper. But during pregnancy I made a decision to take more time for eating and put into practice my own advice to try and eat mindfully. This may help you to register more of the foods that you’re eating, and therefore aid in digestion and absorption of those all important nutrients. Eating Mindfully also helped me to feel fuller for longer after a meal – potentially because I was more aware of the food that I was putting in my mouth and feeling fuller towards the end of the meal.
The above are my experiences when it came to fighting food cravings and getting all the foods I needed. See below a quick summary of my top tips to beating food cravings and let me know if you have any of your own! For more information you can read about food cravings at Baby Centre’s website or visit my Pregnancy Nutrition Blog for all the ins and outs of pregnancy nutrition.
The reason behind this unusual craving might be due to hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies or increased sense of smell and taste during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, eating healthy and in the right amounts can have wonderful effects on the growing foetus. Due to hormonal changes and majorly due to the depletion of a neurotransmitter called Dopamine, pregnant women experience mood swings and depression. This makes an expecting mother eat more or crave feel-good foods, which may lead to extra weight gain and other complications during pregnancy.
PICA is an unusual behaviour by a pregnant woman where she feels like eating something peculiar. This is also called pregnancy cravings. The reason behind this unusual craving might be due to hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies or increased sense of smell and taste during pregnancy. Sometimes pregnant women also crave non-food substances like ice chips, laundry soap, starch, clay, cigarette ash, chalk, antacids, and other substances. These can be very harmful due to toxicity or blockage concerns. So they should be informed of the dangers signs of eating that particular substance.
Summary: A new study sheds light on the neurobiology of cravings for certain foods women experience while pregnant. According to researchers, during pregnancy, the brain undergoes alterations to functional connections in the reward systems, as well as taste and sensorimotor centers. Pregnant females become more sensitive to sweet foods and develop binge eating behaviors toward high-calorie foods. Pregnancy induces a full reorganization of the mesolimbic neural circuits via D2R dopaminergic neurons in the nucleus accumbens.
Source: University of Barcelona
Many people have felt the sudden and uncontrollable urge to eat a certain food. These urges —known as cravings— are very common, mostly during pregnancy. At this stage, the mother’s body undergoes a series of physiological and behavioral changes to create a favorable environment for the embryo’s development.
However, the frequent consumption of tasty and high-calorie foods —derived from cravings— contributes to weight gain and obesity in pregnancy, which can have negative effects on the baby’s health.
“There are many myths and popular beliefs regarding these cravings, although the neuronal mechanisms that cause them are not widely known”, notes March Claret, lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona and head of the IDIBAPS Neuronal Control of Metabolism Group.
Claret leads, together with the researcher Roberta Haddad-Tóvolli, a study published in the journal Nature Metabolism that provides new evidence on the alterations of the neuronal activity that drive cravings in an animal model.
Dopamine and compulsive eating behaviour
According to the results, during pregnancy, the brain of female mice undergoes changes in the functional connections of the brain reward circuits, as well as the taste and sensorimotor centers.
Moreover, just like pregnant women, female mice are more sensitive to sweet food, and they develop binge-eating behaviours towards high calorie foods.
“The alteration of these structures made us explore the mesolimbic pathway, one of the signal transmission pathways of dopaminergic neurons. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in motivational behaviours”, notes Claret, member of the Department of Medicine of the UB and the Diabetes and Associated Metabolic Diseases Networking Biomedical Research Centre (CIBERDEM).
The team observed the levels of dopamine —and the activity of its receptor, D2R— to increase in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region involved in the reward circuit.
“This finding suggests that the pregnancy induces a full reorganization of the mesolimbic neural circuits through the D2R neurons”, notes Haddad-Tóvolli.
“These neuronal cells —and their alteration— would be responsible for the cravings, since food anxiety, typical during pregnancy, disappeared after blocking their activity”.
The team led by Claret and Haddad-Tóvolli showed that persistent cravings have consequences for the offspring. They affect the metabolism and development of neural circuits that regulate food intake, which leads to weight gain, anxiety and eating disorders.
According to the results, during pregnancy, the brain of female mice undergoes changes in the functional connections of the brain reward circuits, as well as the taste and sensorimotor centers. Image is in the public domain
“These results are shocking, since many of the studies are focused on the analysis of how the mother’s permanent habits —such as obesity, malnutrition, or chronic stress— affect the health of the baby. However, this study indicates that short but recurrent behaviours, such as cravings, are enough to increase the psychological and metabolic vulnerability of the offspring”, concludes Claret.
The conclusions of the study could contribute to the improvement of nutritional guidelines for pregnant women in order to ensure a proper prenatal nutrition and prevent the development of diseases. Among the participants in the study were Guadalupe Soria and Emma Muñoz-Moreno (IDIBAPS), Analía Bortolozzi (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS) and Emmanuel Valjent (INSERM and University of Montpelier).
Funding: This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC), given to Marc Claret, and a grant from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions program, given to the researcher Roberta Haddad-Tóvolli.
About this pregnancy and cravings research news
Author: Rosa Martínez
Source: University of Barcelona
Contact: Rosa Martínez – University of Barcelona
Image: The image is in the public domain
What you eat becomes more important than ever when you’re pregnant. You need more vitamins and minerals to help your baby grow and maintain your own health. And because your body is working hard at supporting both of you, you need to consume more calories in the second and third trimester.
While it may be tempting to think of those extra calories as a green light to indulge in less healthy snacks, don’t head to the vending machine just yet, say nutrition experts. If you’re regularly having healthy, balanced meals, a treat here and there isn’t going to hurt. But ideally, you want most of those extra calories to come from nutritious food.
If you’re mostly snacking on things like dessert, chips or another less healthy food, think about what makes that food so appealing to you right now, try to get that same quality in something that provides more nutrition.
Good Pregnancy Nutrition Includes Snacks
To support a baby’s development, the average pregnant woman needs an additional 340 calories per day during the second trimester and 450 in the third trimester. That’s the equivalent of one to two snacks. (Note: The amount can vary depending on your pre-pregnancy weight, activity level and if you’re having twins.)
Besides providing additional fuel, healthy snacking throughout pregnancy has other benefits, such as:
- Satisfying increased hunger
- Making it easier to eat if you feel nauseated
- Keeping your stomach from being empty, which can contribute to nausea
- Helping you avoid junk food
Here are some snack foods that will help you get the nutrients you need while avoiding less-healthy cravings:
#1: Craving ice cream? Try yogurt smoothies.
If you want something cold and rich, try a yogurt smoothie. Yogurt is a good source of calcium, which is necessary for the development of your baby’s bones and teeth, as well as heart, nerve and muscle function. If you don’t consume enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones. Yogurt also provides protein — the building block of tissues — as well as probiotics (good bacteria that help you digest food).
Just be sure to watch out for additives in the yogurt you choose. Many flavored varieties are loaded with sugar. Also, if you like the tartness, opt for Greek yogurt because it contains more protein.
Healthy add-ins include:
- Nut butter
#2: Want something savory? Try hard-boiled eggs.
When you’re feeling in the mood for something savory and filling, eggs are a good choice. That’s because yolks are an excellent source of choline, a nutrient that’s vital for your baby’s brain development. Cook a batch of hard-boiled eggs or whip up deviled eggs to have on hand for whenever hunger strikes. Just make sure the eggs are cooked all the way through to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
#3: Got the munchies? Try nuts.
Want something crunchy? Turn to nuts. Nuts are great to munch on during pregnancy, since they provide protein, fiber, healthy fat and minerals. Plus, they’re a nutrient-dense food, so you don’t have to eat a lot to satisfy your hunger, which is ideal for women who struggle with nausea or who tend to get full quickly toward the end of pregnancy.
Any nut will do, but walnuts are particularly beneficial because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that’s commonly found in fish and helps with your baby’s brain development. If you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat fish, it’s important to eat other foods that contain omega-3s such as walnuts. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to make sure you get enough of these essential fats.
Nutrition During Pregnancy
Not only is eating nutritious food good for you and your baby, it also can ease some of the discomforts of pregnancy. A balanced diet can help minimize symptoms such as nausea and constipation.
#4: In the mood for chips? Try dried beans.
When you’re craving chips, dried bean snacks are a healthier substitute. You can find different flavored versions of roasted chickpeas, fava beans and soybeans at the store, or make a batch at home.
Beans have folic acid, which is key for pregnant women because it reduces the chance of spinal cord birth defects. They’re also high in iron, which is used to create more red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body and to your baby. During pregnancy, you need one and a half times the usual amount of iron. Low iron, or anemia, is the most common nutritional deficiency among pregnant women. To increase the absorption of iron in beans, pair them with a food high in vitamin C such as sliced bell peppers, oranges, melon or strawberries.
One caveat: Packaged dried bean snacks have variable amounts of sodium. Excess sodium intake causes you to retain water and can lead to swelling. Eat these in moderation. If you see sudden signs of swelling, talk to your doctor. It could be a sign of preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy condition.
#5: Need a boost of fiber? Try hummus and veggies.
One of the unfortunate side effects of pregnancy can be constipation. Along with drinking enough fluid, getting good sources of fiber like vegetables can keep you regular.
Vegetables also have antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals — substances that protect the health of your cells and support your immune system, which is slightly lowered during pregnancy. And, when you dip veggies like carrots and broccoli into hummus, you get an extra helping of fiber along with protein to keep you feeling full longer.
Choosing healthy snacks doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. Prioritize nutrition during pregnancy by keeping your kitchen stocked with nourishing options. That way, when you reach for a snack it will be a good one for you and your baby.
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Food Cravings During Pregnancy
Frequent consumption of high calorie foods during pregnancy could lead to weight gain and obesity, which can have negative effects on the baby’s health.
Written by Longjam Dineshwori | Updated : April 5, 2022 4:31 PM IST
Sometimes, we feel a sudden and uncontrollable urge to eat a certain food. But if you’re pregnant, you may feel these urges, known as cravings, quite often. There are many myths and popular beliefs regarding food cravings during pregnancy. Now, researchers from the University of Barcelona have identified the neuronal mechanisms that cause food cravings during pregnancy.
They have shown the alterations of the neuronal activity that drive cravings in an animal model. Their study was published in the journal Nature Metabolism.
March Claret, lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona and head of the IDIBAPS Neuronal Control of Metabolism Group, led the study along with the researcher Roberta Haddad-T volli.
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Binge-eating behaviour during pregnancy
During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes a series of physiological and behavioural changes to create a favourable environment for the development of the embryo.
In this study, the researchers found changes in the functional connections of the brain reward circuits, as well as the taste and sensorimotor centers in pregnant female mice.
Additionally, just like pregnant women, the mice became more sensitive to sweet food during pregnancy, and they develop binge-eating behaviours towards high calorie foods.
The alteration of these structures encouraged the researchers to explore the mesolimbic pathway, one of the signal transmission pathways of dopaminergic neurons. “Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in motivational behaviour,” said Claret, as quoted by Science Daily.
Further, they saw an increase in the levels of dopamine — and the activity of its receptor, D2R — in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region involved in the reward circuit.
Based on these finding, Haddad-T volli hypothesized that pregnancy induces a full reorganization of the mesolimbic neural circuits through the D2R neurons.
“These neuronal cells — and their alteration — would be responsible for the cravings, since food anxiety, typical during pregnancy, disappeared after blocking their activity,” he was quoted as saying.
Craving for high calorie foods? Beware Of The Negative Effects
Pregnancy may make you crave for tasty and high calorie foods. But the researchers have cautioned that frequent consumption of high calorie foods could lead to weight gain and obesity, which can have negative effects on the baby’s health.
The research team showed that persistent cravings affect the metabolism and development of neural circuits that regulate food intake, which leads to weight gain, anxiety and eating disorders.
Most studies highlighted the consequences of a mother’s permanent habits — such as obesity, malnutrition, or chronic stress on the offspring. However, this study indicated that short but recurrent behaviours, such as cravings, are enough to increase the psychological and metabolic vulnerability of the baby, Claret noted.
The authors are hopeful that the study finding could contribute to the improvement of nutritional guidelines for pregnant women to ensure a proper prenatal nutrition and prevent the development of diseases.
April 06, 2018. By: Overlake OBGYN
Food cravings and aversions are common side-effects of pregnancy, usually emerging during the first trimester (particularly morning sickness), can continue or peak through the second trimester and then typically recede around month five or six.
While pregnancy cravings and aversions are largely medical mysteries, likely culprits are pregnancy hormone fluctuations, which heighten the sense of smell, as well as the physical discomforts associated with pregnancy that make women turn towards favorite “comfort foods.” Whichever the case may be, the most important things to remember are:
- The goal is to get sufficient protein and nutrients into your body to grow a healthy baby.
- Pregnancy cravings are typically fine, as long as you’re craving edible foods and keep pregnancy weight gain in check.
- Stressing out about food cravings and aversions isn’t good for you and baby – a sensible conversation with your doctor and/or midwife will put your fears to rest.
Think in Terms of Moderation When Battling Food Cravings
If you’re craving carrot sticks, celery and hummus – there’s nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, the most commonly craved pregnancy foods are sweets and other high-calorie, no-substance carbs. For example, most women crave things like candy, pizza, chips, chocolate, ice cream, etc.
If your cravings all fall within the “not so good for you category,” try to keep things within a rational, healthy balance.
Think smaller portions
If you have a craving for chocolate, buy high-quality darker chocolate (lower in fat and calories/higher in anti-oxidants) and eat a small portion, rather than a king-sized bar. If you crave ice cream, see if frozen yogurt or a healthier ice cream substitute will satisfy the craving; if not, keep yourself limited to a single portion as a treat in the afternoon or at the end of the day.
Go ahead and indulge, but do so with respect to your daily calorie intake and healthy pregnancy weight goals.
Make sure you’re getting what you need
Your OB should provide you with essential pregnancy nutrition guidelines to follow. Contrary to popular believe, pregnant women should only consume about 300-450 extra calories per day (sorry, you’re not eating for two after all…). Make your daily calorie intake count by eating foods you and baby need first, then treat yourself to a couple hundred calories’ worth of pregnancy cravings.
Make sure its edible
Sometimes, pregnancy women crave (and consume) things that aren’t edible – dirt, clay, laundry detergent, burnt matches or charcoal, etc. This condition is called pregnancy-related pica. Report these cravings to your doctor who will verify you’re getting enough iron and other nutrients.
Is Morning Sickness Preventing Your From Getting the Nutrients You Need?
There are rare cases where severe morning sickness needs to be treated by professionals. In most cases, however, you and baby will be fine. For many women, the key to powering through morning (or anytime!) sickness is to:
- Eat smaller snacks so your tummy is never empty
- Suck on sour and/or ginger candy, sniff lemons and/or eat watermelon to take the edge off
- Keep soda crackers and water or tea on the nightstand so you can nibble and sip in the middle of the night and upon waking up
- Drink small amounts of fluid throughout the day (but not necessarily with meals) to avoid hydration
- Play with a few morning sickness smoothie recipes for nutrient-laden sipping
The good news is that of the 50% of pregnant women who experience morning sickness, the large majority feel notably better after the first six-weeks.
Concerned about your pregnancy cravings and/or aversions? Schedule a consultation with the compassionate OBs here at Overlake.