Food Cravings and Aversions during Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, you may have also felt a sudden desire for certain food like pickles, chocolates, sweets, chips and kinds. It is normal to feel hungry or crave a certain type of food during pregnancy.

These urges, at times, are so strong that you wouldn’t let anything come your way. Ever wondered how it affects your baby and your body?

What are Food Cravings?

When a person develops sudden urges to eat particular foods, it is called a food craving. Cravings are extremely common during pregnancy and is something almost every woman goes through. They generally occur in the first and second trimester of pregnancy.

Early pregnancy craving may range from an insatiable greed for sweet, spicy, salty or sour foods. The most common food cravings include chocolate cakes, desserts, pickles, dairy products and fruits.

Why do Pregnancy Cravings Develop?

You must have surely wondered as to why this undying pang arises from time to time.

While there is no accurate explanation for food cravings during pregnancy, it is commonly believed that they are a sign of nutritional deficiency in the expectant mother. The body craves nutrients like vitamins and minerals which it lacks due to the increased requirement during pregnancy. This lack of nutrients causes pregnancy cravings.

Some experts also believe that early pregnancy cravings may develop due to hormonal changes in the body. The estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate in the body, which, in turn, influence the brain. The soon-to-be mother acquires a heightened sense of smell and taste and hence, the urges.

Is it Normal Not to Have Food Cravings in Pregnancy?

It may be hard to believe that there are some women who do not have any such cravings. If you are one of them, there is no need to worry at all as not having any food cravings too is totally normal.

In such a case, the pregnant woman needn’t indulge in unnecessary calories and can consume a healthy diet, rich in nutrients, thus, benefitting herself and her baby and this ultimately results in a win-win situation!

When Does Food Craving Start during Pregnancy?

Some pregnant women have cravings throughout their pregnancy. It starts in the first trimester, increases in the second and subsequently decreases by the third. Some may have extreme cravings for a short period of time. While some women might not have them at all. All three situations are absolutely normal and are no cause for concern. If you are worried about how long does food craving during pregnancy lasts for, the answer is quite simple. It all depends upon your body and health conditions.

Which are the Most Common Food Cravings?

Cheese, cakes, sweets and desserts, chocolates, fruits and fish, sometimes even meat are the most common food cravings among pregnant women.

In India, craving sour foods like tamarind, lime and spicy and tangy foods like pickles has traditionally been associated with pregnancy. Some pregnant women also like to gorge on foods that are high in calories and sugar content. Here are some of the top pregnancy cravings in women:

  • Craving Sweets: Craving chocolate while pregnant is very common among expecting mothers. Cakes, pastries, doughnuts, sugary mithai are the top favourites. Women may crave sweet foods so as to regulate dropping sugar levels during pregnancy.
  • Craving Salty Foods: Salty foods like chips, French fries, popcorn, different sauces, etc. are increasingly consumed by women with low sodium levels. Moreover, the increased blood levels during pregnancy may lead to craving for salty items. Craving salt while pregnant is quite common.
  • Craving Spicy Foods: A pregnant woman would do anything to keep her body cool. Spicy curries induce sweating which, in turn, lowers the body temperature.
  • Craving Chocolates: Chocolates are an all-time favourite. Chocolate cakes and pastries, chocolate flavoured ice-cream and or simply a bar of chocolate help boost her mood. They are also high on antioxidants. Pregnant women who devour chocolates, in one or more forms, may be low on magnesium.
    Craving Ice: Astonishing yet true. Some pregnant women crave for ice. It is believed that anaemic women tend to gorge on ice to soothe their mouth and tongue. The crunch and the cooling effect of ice may also be a reason for pregnant women to do so.
  • Craving Red Meat: The desire to dig into red meat indicates protein deficiency. Remember to have only fully-cooked meat.
  • Craving Citric Foods: Lime, lemons and pickle rank highest in the list of food cravings. The body may derive nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D from citric foods. Low levels of stomach acids can be another reason for such a craving. Pregnant women find solace in the tangy and sour taste of lime and pickles. They help to refresh their taste buds occasionally.
  • Craving Cheese: Cheese and other dairy products work on the lack of calcium in the body. Load up on foods like milk and yoghurt. Go easy on the extra-cheese pizza and burgers.

  • Craving Ice cream: There is nothing more pleasing than a tub of ice-cream. Pregnant women may be picky about the flavour but few may turn down an offer to the neighbouring ice-cream parlour.
  • Craving Fruits: Fruits provide the mother and her child with essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Some fruits like watermelons, grapes help to cool the body. Fruits such as oranges are a rich source of Vitamin C. Fruits are a very nutritious option for all expectant mothers so eat your way to good health since craving fruit definitely works in your favour.
  • Craving Coffee: A mug-full of hot coffee works like magic for some pregnant women, making it another top contending food craving. It helps to oust any signs of fatigue or depression.

The list of food cravings is endless. Just like every woman’s experience of childbirth is unique and incomparable, the likes and dislikes when it comes to foods are also strikingly different.

Healthy Food Options for Pregnancy Cravings

Being happy and content during pregnancy is of paramount importance for any woman. Indulging in one’s craving, during these trying months will not only lift your spirit but also address nutrient-requirements. Yet, that doesn’t mean you go over-board and pile on unnecessary calories and kilos.

This task is easier said than done. Giving in to your cravings once in a while is fine. The idea is to keep it under control. In order to accomplish this, we must first understand that foods such as coffee, pizza, burgers, cakes and pastries, potato chips and other junk food are examples of unhealthy cravings. Any food item that is very high on empty calories and sugar content and low on other nutrients is definitely bad for your baby and body.

There are some pregnant women who crave for fruits and vegetable too.  Healthy cravings include:

  • Vegetables – greens, legumes, garlic, etc.
  • Fruits – watermelon, pears, apples, grapes, etc.
  • Red meat and lean meat
  • Seafood – crab and fish
  • Dairy products – milk, cheese, yoghurt

You must include these foods in your diet as much as possible.

Food Fixes for your Cravings

Your Craving

Substitute

Ice Cream

Flavoured yoghurt. You could even try making some at home with your favourite fruits

Cola

Lemonade or freshly squeezed fruit juice

Doughnuts

Try baked doughnuts instead of fried ones and top them with your favourite jam for a decadent treat

Cake

Pick a cake made of wholewheat flour or put on your baker’s hat to make a healthy version with ingredients like coconut flour, honey, bananas, almond milk and more

Sugar-coated cereal

Dig into muesli with nuts fresh fruit, honey or brownsugar

Potato chips

Go for low sodium baked chips, or reach for salted and roasted nuts instead

Sundae toppings

Top your favourite sundae with berries of your choice, chopped fruit or a drizzle of honey.

Canned Fruits in heavy syrup

Fresh fruits are a better choice, not only because they are devoid of artificial sugars, but also because they do not carry the risk of chemicals, and bacteria which canned fruits pose.

Fat-laden or Raw Meats

Well-cooked lean meat is a healthier option.

Processed Cheese

Fresh homemade cottage cheese (paneer) or tofu are equally satisfying

Know About Pregnancy Food Aversions and What to Do About Them

Many pregnant women also develop severe revulsion to a certain food or kinds of food. Such a food aversion may also be to any kind of food that you previously enjoyed and relished.

Like food cravings, aversions are also caused by the hormonal changes in the body. An expectant mother is so flooded with hormones that her sense of smell and taste are intensified manifold. This may make her strongly avoid some foods. It may also be an indication as to what the growing mother’s body doesn’t require, although there is no concrete evidence to suggest the same.

What Can You Do?

It makes perfect sense to listen to your body, but severe food aversions may limit your nutrition intake. Try eating other healthy substitutes.

Be vigilant about your dietary intake but certainly don’t go overboard.

Non-food Cravings (PICA)

Normally, one needn’t worry about food cravings. They are a part and parcel of the experience of pregnancy and becoming a mother. Almost all expectant mothers go through them. But craving non-food items can be harmful and one needs to be alert.

Few pregnant women develop the urge to eat things like chalk, soap, dirt, clay, etc. Craving non-food items or PICA, as it is called, may be a sign of severe anaemia or some sort of mineral deficiency.

Risks for Mother and Baby

Substances like dirt and clay contain lead which could cause problems for the baby. Lead hampers the development of the foetus with problems like hearing impairment, reduced motor skill development, low verbal IQ, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.

Though the condition is pretty rare, the safest bet is to immediately inform your doctor for a future course of action.

Which Foods to Avoid

There are certain foods you need to avoid during pregnancy as they contain harmful substances that could cause harm to the little one growing inside you. These substances include mercury, bacteria or listeria. If you are pregnant, it is best you avoid foods like deli meat, raw eggs, smoked seafood and unwashed vegetables.

Simple Tips to Manage Unhealthy Food Cravings

The journey of becoming a mother is an experience that ought to be enjoyed rather than be fretted about. You cannot arrest food cravings or aversions, but you can stay in control. Follow these steps for a smooth pregnancy:

  1. Never skip breakfast – We have always underestimated the importance of a sumptuous, healthy breakfast. A healthy breakfast is crucial for pregnant women as you will need to replenish the nutrients used during sleep at night. Eat a nutritious breakfast every morning to fight those mid-meal hunger pangs. Stay fresh and feel energetic.
  2. Always eat at regular intervals – Rather than stuffing yourself with tons of food, plan your meals smartly. Eat 4-6 small meals at regular intervals through the day and avoid junk food as much as possible
  3. Keep a tab – Limit your food portions. It is definitely not easy to ignore your cravings, but indulge in them by eating small portions. A piece or two of chocolate rather than an entire bar might do the trick in getting you started.
  4. Grab healthy snacks – Make friends with dry fruits, fresh fruits, nuts, salads, oatmeal and other healthy snacks. Always keep them handy and help yourself to them whenever you sense an urge approaching.
  5. Stay away from junk food – Do not store junk food at home. That might deter you from gorging unhealthy food. You may treat yourself one odd time though.
  6. Pick healthy recipes and healthy substitutes – Fight unhealthy cravings with tasty and healthy recipes. If you like experimenting, surf the internet for new recipes for expecting mothers.

7. Exercise – Stay fit. Exercise regularly to keep fatigue and lethargy at bay. A healthy body and a happy mind are the mantra to beat those cravings.

8. Distract yourself – If you crave cigarettes and alcohol, your only solution is to avoid. They are harmful not only to the mother but also to the foetus.

9. Consult your doctor – Your body will send signals all the time. Trust your instincts. If you feel anything is amiss, immediately consult your gynaecologist.

10. Take ample rest – While it is important to be active during the gestation period, you should also get proper rest. Late nights and exertion will not agree with your body. So eat well, sleep well.

As an expectant mother, your body undergoes numerous changes. You cannot stop the symptoms of food cravings or aversions, but you can surely outsmart them. Remember, your baby needs proper nourishment for healthy growth and development. Blindly feasting on high-calorie foods and sweets will lead to problems like excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, etc. At the end of the day, all you need to do is eat healthy, sleep well and enjoy!