It is very common for women to experience food cravings while they are pregnant. Food cravings range in intensity, frequency and type. They typically occur during the first trimester, are often less severe by the fourth month and can be sudden and sometimes unusual. Sweets, salty snacks and spicy foods are among the most common categories of cravings. Women may also find unusual combinations appealing to satisfy their cravings, such as olives and peanut butter or pickles and ice cream. Some common cravings include:
- Sweet: Chocolate, ice cream, candies, cakes, watermelon, apples
- Salty: Cheese, peanut butter, potato chips, fried foods, olives
- Spicy: Spicy condiments, peppers, salsa
- Sour: Pickles, grapefruit
Causes of Food Cravings
Although there is no definite answer as to why expectant mothers experience cravings, there are strong influences that can be linked to these behaviors.
In the early stages of pregnancy, hormones are at high levels, and the body is working to adjust to the changes it is experiencing. This can have a great impact on overall mood and eating habits. Women are also getting used to the feeling of a growing baby and those babies needs or impact on the body may also affect cravings. Women may feel highly sensitive to certain scents and textures, resulting in unusual food cravings and aversions. Heightened emotions can cause cravings for nostalgic and comforting foods.
Temporary nutritional deficiencies may also influence food cravings. For example, a lack of protein might cause an appetite for red meat, or a craving for chocolate ice cream might signal a need for more fat. Some women also experience Pica, a craving for non-food items, such as chalk and laundry detergent, that can be linked to iron deficiencies. Do not indulge in these cravings, and be sure to let your physician know.
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy for a woman of average weight is about 25 to 35 pounds; that equals only about 300 extra calories a day. Many food cravings are of unhealthy foods with low nutritional value. Heavy intake of foods with high levels of fat and acidity can cause indigestion, bloating and aren’t beneficial to you or your baby. Finding healthy options to satisfy your cravings is key. Switch out a bowl of ice cream with low-fat yogurt or a fresh fruit smoothie. Keep healthy snacks at hand, such as herb-seasoned popcorn or dried fruit, instead of chips or candy.
Along with cravings, many expectant mothers also experience food aversions, which are new repulsions for certain foods. Typical food aversions can range from strong-smelling foods to dishes you may have previously enjoyed. Women who experience regular aversions to healthy, nutrition based food groups should consider taking vitamin supplements to supplement the nutrients they are missing.
The key to managing food cravings, say experts, is to not automatically reach for the food you think you want — but instead take a few minutes to understand what your body is telling you. It’s important to remember to consume treats in moderation, and to always seek healthier alternatives. Maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly and spending time with your family are all healthy ways to manage your cravings. If you questions about your cravings, please contact your provider’s office.