Understanding Food Craving During Pregnancy

Posted on July 28, 2021

If you're pregnant, you're probably going through a lot of new experiences. You probably also have a long to-do list. You need to get the room ready, pick out a name, and make sure your hepatitis vaccines are up-to-date.

But the strange new experiences can sometimes distract from these simple, predictable tasks. During pregnancy, you may find yourself facing other questions that you don't have answers to.

One of those questions might be, "Why am I experiencing such strong food cravings during pregnancy? 

Maybe you're craving something as simple and easy as Oreo cookies and milk. Maybe you have a desperate longing for salty potato chips with cream cheese. Or maybe you're reaching for the classic pickles and ice cream.

No matter what your weird food cravings are, we're here to help explain where they come from and how you should respond to them.

What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?

You may have experienced intense food cravings during pregnancy. But where do those cravings come from? 

The short answer is 'many' that even scientists aren't 100% sure. It can be caused by a lot of things, such amped-up hormones, a heightened sense of smell and taste, and nutritional deficiencies. There are lots of theories, but none of them are confirmed at this point.

Figuring out the science behind intense pregnancy cravings starts by acknowledging that pregnancy can seriously heighten your sense of taste and smell.

This probably happens because when you're pregnant, your blood flow increases. That means that when your blood moves something to your brain, it moves much more quickly during pregnancy. 

Nerve responses like smell and taste are related to blood flow, which may be why your sense of taste and smell gets stronger when a baby is growing inside of you.

Your super senses may be part of the reason why your cravings are so intense. You may find that foods that you normally love (like ice cream, for example) smell and taste even better now.

Food cravings may also have something to do with changing hormones. When you're pregnant, your body produces more of the hormone Neuropeptide Y (NPY). This hormone is associated with appetite increase.

Another theory is that when you experience strong cravings for a certain food during pregnancy, it's because that food contains some specific nutrient that your body needs. 

For example, a pregnancy-caused nutritional deficiency in vitamin C might lead to an intense craving for oranges or orange juice.

But no matter why your body experiences cravings, they're almost impossible to ignore.

Most Common Food Cravings During Pregnancy?

Although pregnancy can lead to any kind of craving, there are certain foods that are especially common for pregnant individuals.

Spicy Foods

 

Spicy foods

When you're pregnant, sometimes you might find yourself feeling warm to an uncomfortable degree. In times like these, you need a way to cool down. 

Ironically, your body may crave spicy food because consuming spice can produce sweat. Sweating a lot will cool your body down in a natural way. This may be why you crave spicy foods when pregnant.

In fact, this survey indicates that 17% of pregnant respondents crave spicy foods.

Pickles

Pickles pregnancy cravings

Many pregnant women find themselves craving pickles. This may be because you aren't getting enough sodium in your diet. Pickles have lots of salt, which can help with a sodium deficiency.

Chocolate

Dark chocolate good for the heart

Unfortunately, pregnant women are more likely to struggle with depression than women who are not pregnant.

Those who suffer from depression usually have trouble producing serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that secretes endorphins. That means it's a "happy chemical."

Chocolate naturally contains lots of a special chemical known as tryptophan. Tryptophan produces serotonin. That means that chocolate can help treat perinatal depression. 

Just keep in mind that the healthiest chocolate is dark, with as little fat and sugar as possible.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter pregnancy cravings

Some pregnant women experience an intense craving for peanut butter. This may be because they have a nutritional deficiency in Vitamin B or even protein.

Eating peanut butter with some other food, like apples or oatmeal, can help to satisfy this craving in the healthiest way.

Red Meat

Red meat

Those who are pregnant may also find themselves craving red meat.

This may happen because of an iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is very common among pregnant women.

When Do Food Cravings Start During Pregnancy?

Food cravings usually start around the same time as morning sickness. Morning sickness begins early, sometimes only four weeks into the pregnancy.

As a rule of thumb, you should expect morning sickness around the end of your first trimester. That means you should expect to begin experiencing cravings around that time as well.

Cravings get more intense in the second semester, and then often become less intense toward the end of the pregnancy. They should disappear after the baby is born.

How Can I Prevent Food Cravings During Pregnancy?

If you're asking this question, there's a different question you should ask first: "Should I prevent food cravings during pregnancy?" 

That's a complicated question. When your body is asking for a certain kind of food, it can be dangerous to ignore those cravings. 

Let's say that you have an iron deficiency, and so you're craving red meat. If you ignore the craving, you will continue to be deficient in iron. That deficiency could harm not just you, but also your growing baby.

So you probably shouldn't try to prevent food cravings entirely. Often, cravings are just your body trying to tell you something. 

But of course, you don't want to be unhealthy during your pregnancy. Eating too much unhealthy food can lead to weight gain and birth complications. So how do you respond to cravings in a healthy way? 

If you're craving a certain food, don't fight it! Just eat a moderate amount. If you have a strong desire for ice cream, eat a bowl of ice cream. Don't eat a whole gallon.

You should also make sure you're eating a balanced diet. One small bag of salt and vinegar chips won't make a big difference as long as you're eating enough protein, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats.

Keep in mind that when you're pregnant, you need to eat regularly to avoid drops in blood sugar. If you're craving Oreos and don't want anything else, it's better to eat the Oreos than let your blood sugar drop too low.

Remember to exercise several times a week to offset any change in eating patterns. If you burn enough calories, it won't matter that you've been craving nachos every day for a week.

Most Common Food Aversions During Pregnancy?

Food aversions are the opposite of food cravings. Sometimes during pregnancy, you might find yourself hating the smell or taste of a particular food.

Weirdly enough, sometimes you might experience a taste aversion to a food that you used to love. These food aversions may occur because of hormonal changes, nausea, or morning sickness.

No matter why food aversions happen, they're annoying. Here are some of the most common food aversions during pregnancy.

While delicious and nutritious, eggs are squishy and often eaten along with dairy products like cheese. This can make them repulsive to pregnant women who are struggling with nausea. 

Onions and garlic are especially smelly, which may be why they can cause food aversion. Aromatic foods are associated with pregnancy aversions.

Fish is a common food aversion for the same reason that onions are. They have a strong smell. Because pregnant women have a heightened sense of smell, seafood may make them more nauseous.

The aversion meaning of rich foods like meat and dairy products may be that many fatty foods can make morning sickness and nausea worse.

Keep Calm and Prepare for Your Baby

If you're experiencing food cravings during pregnancy, you might be worried that something is wrong. Is it okay to eat pickles dipped in ice cream? Why do I suddenly hate my favourite foods? 

Our biggest piece of advice is not to worry. Your body knows what it needs, and pregnancy cravings are completely normal.

If you feed your body with the food it asks for, you'll keep yourself and your baby healthy. As long as you're eating moderately as part of a healthy diet, everything will be fine.

While you're scarfing down your chocolate-covered chips, you might want to think about preparing for your newborn in other ways. For example, you could consider something like newborn insurance.

If you're interested in learning some of Insurdinary's tips for making financial preparations for a newborn, check them out here.

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