| || || | A recent study found that almost 40% of pregnant women list "something sweet" as their number one pregnancy food craving. Trailing at a close second, "salty food" was craved by 33% of women during pregnancy, with spicy food following at 17%, and sour or tart foods such as green apples and citrus coming in fourth as 10% of pregnant women's favorite snack.
Food cravings are a well-known feature of pregnancy symptoms, and the reasons behind these pregnancy urges is not well understood. Some believe they are meant to indicate a nutritional deficiency in a pregnant diet. But what can explain some of those strange "pica" cravings and sudden preference for foods that actually have lower levels of nutrition?
The Food Pregnant Women Crave
Some of the most common food cravings documented among pregnant women are sugary cravings, dairy products, spicy foods, sour fruit and salty snacks. Based on these results, it is not surprising that ice cream, pickles, tomatoes and tomato sauce, lemon, cheese, and chocolate are some of the top cravings experienced during pregnancy. Meat, on the other hand, has been listed as one of the highest ranking foods averted in a pregnancy diet, though it seems relatively common to crave animal fats in the form of, for example, steak fat.
Strange combinations of food such as black olives on cheesecake, pickles wrapped in cheese, and eggplant on pizza have been reported by pregnant women, while exclusively craving a single food such as pickled onions, salsa out of a jar, and peaches is also common. Frequently, women report having cravings for food that they never ate regularly prior to pregnancy; similarly, many women experience an aversion to these same craved-for items following the birth of their baby.
One of the most unusual and yet relatively common cravings among pregnant women is "pica" during pregnancy. Pica is a term used to describe cravings to eat non-food items such as toothpaste, laundry detergent, soap, dirt, coal, chalk, and cigarette butts. While indulging in pica cravings is dangerous to both the mother and the baby's health, experts have come up with several theories as to why these strange urges arise during pregnancy.
Why Pregnant Women Crave Certain Foods
There is no definitive answer as to why pregnant women crave certain foods in their diet. In fact, it is also common for pregnant women to experience no cravings at all. Nonetheless, several explanations have been put forth by researchers trying to find the key to pregnant diet cravings:
Hormonal changes during pregnancy may alter a woman's sense of taste and smell making her crave food that she normally would not have enjoyed. This could also explain why menopausal women often experience food cravings and aversions.
Temporary nutritional deficiencies may cause cravings; however, this reason would not explain why some women crave more than enough amounts of certain nutrients. Nonetheless, a craving for pickles could indicate low sodium levels in the blood, while craving chocolate may be triggered by a vitamin B deficiency. A craving for red meat may indicate a need for protein, while cravings for peaches might be a result of low beta carotene levels.
Emotional needs are known to be connected with food intake. A pregnant woman may be craving certain foods, consciously or subconsciously, as a response to emotional needs. Many pregnant women crave nostalgic foods that remind them of their childhoods or religious and cultural background, particularly if they are removed from it.
Warding off pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness and nausea may be the basis for certain food aversions as well as pica cravings of non-food items during pregnancy. Substances like baking soda are known for calming digestive discomfort, while coffee, alcohol, and fried foods may induce nausea as well as harm your baby.
How To Deal With Pregnancy Cravings
The most important rule to follow when it comes to satisfying pregnancy cravings is to choose healthy options that are similar to the unhealthy foods you crave. Integrate some of your cravings for salty, sweet, sour, and spicy foods into a regular pregnancy diet that is nutritionally balanced. Consider the following healthy alternatives to some common pregnancy cravings:
- Ice cream. Opt for nonfat frozen yogurt, which will meet your calcium needs without the added calories
- Chocolate can be substituted by nonfat chocolate syrup drizzled on top of some fresh fruit
- Candy and Sweets may be substituted by dried fruits such as apricots, or fresh tropical fruit such as mango or pineapple
- Salty Snacks. Opt for popcorn sprinkled with herb blends or sesame breadsticks with spicy mustard dip
- Sour Snacks. Squeeze some lemon on your fish or use in a salad in order to ensure regular yet moderated intake instead of indulging in an empty calorie or sugary lemonade
Always resist pica cravings, which can be harmful to you and your baby's health, and contact your doctor if these cravings persist and become bothersome. Reward yourself with other treats (even if it is a bit of chocolate) when you are successfully avoiding those pica cravings and do the best you can to keep them out of your mind. Occasionally, pica cravings can be a sign of other problems, so seeking medical attention in these cases is important.
Chat with other pregnant women about pregnancy food cravings in our pregnancy forum.
How to Support Your Pregnant Wife
- Compliment her. Women can be very self-conscious about the changes their bodies are going through. Expensive gifts are not needed to ally these fears. But a well-placed “You look great” or “I love you” will do wonders.
- Be the strong high-low man. Any heavy item, lift it for her. Anything she can’t reach because of the belly, get it for her. Anything that she can’t bend over for, be the first on the floor to pick it up for her. This may mean going with her on trips you ordinarily would not (i.e. grocery stores or mall shopping), but it will be well worth it in the end.
- Attend birthing classes with her. She needs to know that you are not only going to be there every step of the way when she goes into labor, but that you will know exactly what to do when the time comes.
- Know that smart remarks are not welcome. Even if you have had a bad day, even if you are just joking, avoid the smart-aleck remarks. Her hormones are all over the place, her anxiety is sky high and she will not take them in the spirit in which they are intended.
- Show her you are excited as well. There is nothing more supportive than showing her how excited you are to be a dad.
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA