Feeling ‘enslaved’ by your taste buds during your pregnancy?
Changes in your taste preferences?
You suddenly long for a particular food you would not normally desire when not expecting?
Well, it seems like you may be experiencing the famous ‘pregnancy food cravings’! Read on for expert advice on how to deal with your cravings in a healthy way.
What causes food cravings?
While cravings for certain foods are common during pregnancy (almost 60% of pregnant women experience them), the truth is no one can really explain why. Three main theories have been brought forward to shed some light on this phenomenon.
Assumption One: Protection
Some experts believe food cravings, and their flip side, food aversions (sudden repulsion for a food previously enjoyed), may be protective. However, there is no scientific data to validate this theory.
For instance, some mothers-to-be may be repulsed by alcohol. This is favourable since alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risks of the mother giving birth to a baby with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD describes an array of disabilities (physical, social, mental, emotional) that may affect individuals whose birth mothers drank alcohol during gestation.
Assumption Two: Hormonal changes
A woman’s body undergoes several changes, including hormonal shifts, to accommodate the new life growing inside her. Hence, some experts suppose that food cravings may actually be side-effects of these changes which, in turn, may influence the mother’s ability to eat as healthfully as she might like.
I am pregnant and I crave potato chips. Does that mean I lack some particular nutrient?
Some may say that if you crave salt-laden potato chips, this might be nature’s way of ensuring that you meet your daily sodium requirements. However, it is highly improbable that cells translate these alleged nutrient shortfalls into food cravings. If people really craved what the body needs, we would all eat more veggies and less chocolate!
It is more likely that, like for most pregnancy food cravings, the ‘culprits’ behind yours are your pregnancy hormones. Did you know that smell greatly influences our taste buds? Well, all these changes in your blood hormones levels are sufficiently powerful to impact your food preferences by heightening your smell acuity!
Pregnancy hormones may cause nausea, bloating, fatigue or crabbiness; feelings which may cause you to turn to foods in an attempt to improve your comfort level.
Assumption Three: Pregnancy and treats
Some women may consider pregnancy as an occasion to indulge themselves to foods they typically avoid when not pregnant.
Tips to help you cope
Stick to the Eatwell Guide: With a balanced diet, even if you indulge in a small portion of a not-so-healthy food, you will still be providing your baby with the nutrients she or he needs.
Eat regularly: Having three main meals and one or two healthy snacks per day will help prevent drops in blood sugar that could elicit food cravings.
Make healthier choices: While you can eat sweets, chips and ice-cream; eating these will not help you meet the nutritional needs of your baby. By coming up with healthier versions (or lower calorie options) of the treats you crave, you will be replenishing your body stores (and your baby’s) with quality nutrients.
- Longing for an apricot Danish? Why not spread four graham cracker squares with two tablespoons low-fat whipped cream cheese, topped with sliced fresh apricots?
- Craving sweets? Cookies and ice-creams are not the only options! Try this yummy blender treat: combine fresh or frozen fruit with some milk in a blender for a delicious drink packed with vitamins or whip to desired consistency some low-fat frozen vanilla yogurt with some 100% cranberry juice.
- Feeling like super-premium ice-cream? Go for lower-calorie frozen treats such as frozen yogurt, low-fat fudge bars, sorbet, sherbet, and frozen fruit bars.
- Need some alcohol? Consider chocolate as a replacement treat. Chocolate is known to release feel-good hormones that may lift your mood (temporarily). Do not overindulge though.
Get busy with something else: If you had a snack within the last three-four hours, try getting your mind off food by going for a stroll; calling a pal; reading; running an errand (better not be to the grocery store!) or getting out of the kitchen.
Include regular physical activity (as permitted by your doctor).
Down-size a bit: If nothing can fight this craving of yours, you may want to choose smaller portions to satisfy yourself while limiting empty calories.
- Got to have chocolate? Instead of a king-size bar, go for a fun-size bar.
- Chips-urge? Pick a snack size bag of baked chips to limit fat intake and overall consumption.
Some cravings can be dangerous
Craving for any of the following foods?
- Raw and undercooked seafood, meat, and eggs;
- Unpasteurised milk and any foods made from it, including Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, and Mexican-style cheeses;
- Unpasteurised juice;
- Raw vegetable sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, and radish;
- Some types of herbal teas;
Steer clear of the above mentioned foods, no matter how irresistible and tempting they may be as these foods are considered health risks for pregnant women and developing babies.
Pica and harmful food cravings
Pica is the relentless consumption of substances of no nutritional value such as coal, dirt, paint, stones, clay, newspaper, toilet paper rolls, soap, toothpaste, sponges, furniture polish or cigarette butts. The list is endless.
These cravings are not only downright peculiar but could even be dangerous: the substances mentioned may be toxic or contaminated. They may lead to nutritional deficiencies by impeding nutrient absorption and utilisation by your body and that of your baby.
Although further studies are required, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, pica may be linked to iron deficiency and poor nutrition. If you have any of these urges, resist eating the items you crave for, and report them to your doctor immediately.
Flour and cornstarch: if eaten in excess, these two may also be potentially dangerous since they can obstruct your bowels. Moreover, large consumption of flour and cornstarch may make you feel too full to be able to nourish yourself (and your baby) properly.
You might just need a hug!
While you should pay attention to your pregnancy cravings, you do not necessarily have to give in to them. The key is to be mindful of how much you eat and to have lots of emotional support. The ebb and flow of emotions that accompanies pregnancy may cause you to turn to food when all you really need is a big, warm hug!
Young SL (2010) Pica in pregnancy: new ideas about an old condition. Annu Rev Nutr. 30:403-22.