In what world would carrot sticks dipped in nacho cheese, topped with jalapenos, with a side of whipped cream and sprinkles sound absolutely scrumptious? In what world?
Welcome to the world of pregnancy — specifically the first trimester, because that’s usually when bizarre cravings appear out of the blue. But don’t worry, cravings are normal. They typically peak during the second trimester and start to dissipate throughout the third trimester.
What causes cravings during pregnancy?
The truth is nobody knows exactly why such intense (and sometimes strange) cravings happen during pregnancy. There are a few theories, though.
- Rising levels of pregnancy hormones heighten your senses. Hormone levels escalate rapidly, especially during the first trimester, and are often responsible for changes in taste and smell.
- Pregnancy brings constant change for nine months, and while the transformation is exciting, it can also be challenging and demanding. Food is a source of comfort for many, so some pregnant women may crave certain foods that bring a wave of comfort amid the sea of change.
- Pregnant women need more of certain nutrients to help support baby’s healthy growth and development, like iron, folate, and protein. Some believe that cravings are the body’s way of asking for what it needs. While this school of thought remains widely accepted, we don’t have solid evidence to back it up.
Remember, these are just theories — cravings during pregnancy can be related to many factors, and the root cause isn’t completely clear.
What are the most common pregnancy cravings?
Everyone is unique, and cravings may change from day to day, but here are some common cravings:
- Sweet treats, like ice cream or chocolate
- Dairy, like cheese, sour cream, or milk
- Starchy carbohydrates, like pasta, rice, or chips
- Fast food
- Fruits and vegetables
Some like to take a little walk on the wild side — this is where those infamous cravings like pickles and ice cream come in. Sauerkraut on pizza, Buddy the Elf’s classic breakfast spaghetti, chocolate-covered cheese puffs. If you can think of it, I’m sure the craving has struck someone during pregnancy. These concoctions may sound wacky but to each their own!
Should I indulge in my pregnancy cravings?
The top priority is making sure that you maintain a healthy, balanced diet to support the growth and development of your little one. But yes, it is okay to indulge in your cravings as long as you try to indulge mindfully. Cravings often start in the first trimester, but your calorie needs don’t actually increase until the second and third trimesters — and only by about 350 and 450 calories, respectively. So, if you find that your cravings are stacking your diet full of foods high in calories, fat, and sodium, consider taking a moment to re-evaluate. You may be lacking in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, all of which help provide essential nutrients and promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
Just remember that keyword: mindful. Mindful eating can take some practice, but it can help you stay both satisfied and nourished. When a not-so-nutritious craving strikes, try pausing before you reach for that specific food — this can help you think about what you’re really craving.
Try out these three mindful eating tips:
- Ask yourself: “Why does this food sound so good?” Sometimes, your craving could be satisfied with a healthier swap. For example, if you’re craving a donut with strawberry icing, is it because it is high in carbohydrates? Maybe a small whole-grain bagel with whipped cream cheese would do the trick. Is it the strawberry flavor? Perhaps a bowl of fresh strawberries with whipped topping would satisfy you. If you still can’t stop thinking about that strawberry donut, though, enjoy it! Work on filling the rest of your day with nourishing foods for you and your baby.
- Think about the reason you are eating. A trip to the kitchen could be a result of hunger, but there are many other reasons humans eat. Boredom, sadness, loneliness, comfort, pleasure — all of these may play a part.
- Pay attention to your hunger cues. Your body gives you signals when you’re hungry or full — she’s quite the Chatty Cathy. It can take some time, but learning to listen to your body will help you figure out when you’re hungry or satisfied.
Okay, but what about really weird pregnancy cravings?
Some pregnant women may find themselves craving non-food items like dirt, clay, laundry soap, chalk, or ice chips. This is a condition called pica, and while it is more common in children, it does still occur in some pregnant women. Some of these non-food cravings can be harmful to your health, so it’s important to address them with your health care team if you experience pica cravings. While ice chips aren’t necessarily harmful, sometimes pica can be associated with a nutrient deficiency like iron or zinc, so it’s still best to visit your physician to rule out any underlying causes.
Okay, but now I HATE foods that I used to love?
You haven’t been able to entertain the thought of your morning cup of joe for weeks. What used to be a necessity to start your day with a smile now brings only disgust. Food aversions are the opposite of cravings, and they’re not uncommon during pregnancy. Food aversions are often related to nausea and vomiting some women experience with morning sickness, and rapidly rising hormone levels are usually the culprit (again). Common aversions include meat, eggs, onions, garlic, milk, coffee, and spicy foods. You don’t have to force yourself to eat foods that you hate, but if your aversions include foods rich in essential nutrients for pregnancy, make sure to get those nutrients another way. For example, if you no longer enjoy milk, try getting your calcium through yogurt, cheese, or dark, leafy greens to help support bone health. You may even be able to sneak milk into a smoothie bowl with your favorite fruits and veggies — top with nuts and seeds for extra protein and fiber!
Food cravings and aversions can make it challenging to maintain a balanced diet, so a high-quality prenatal supplement is important to ensure that both you and your baby get all the nutrients you need to thrive. If you continue to struggle with cravings or aversions, consider consulting a registered dietitian to help you adequately meet your needs during pregnancy.