Pregnancy yens can range from the ordinary to the full-blown extraordinary. Whether it’s a straight-up hankering for the classic jar of pickles, waffles and ice cream, or a more bizarre desire for coal, dirt and even laundry detergent, cravings and pregnancy go hand in hand.
However, why pregnant women experience such weird and wonderful munchies has been hotly debated over the years. On the one hand, scientists and doctors purport they are merely the result of certain nutritional deficits, which aren’t surprising during pregnancy. But on the other, some say there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate such claims (if it were true, surely pregnant bodies would crave a bucket load of broccoli, not chocolate digestives?).
Despite all the toing-and-froing, we have to acknowledge there have been studies into pregnancy cravings. And many experts believe they do signal something, at least. So, let’s get to the bottom of this age-old subject. Here are your pregnancy cravings: explained.
Giving into your sweet tooth is a common occurrence during pregnancy, with chocolate being the numero uno culprit here. This sugar-laden treat is high in empty calories, meaning it provides a fast supply of energy. Indeed, some experts believe a longing for the sweet stuff might imply a drop in blood sugar or a need for more calories during pregnancy. San Francisco midwife and herbalist, Cynthia Belew, supposes a chocolate craving could also indicate a shortage of magnesium – a compound that’s responsible for all sorts of important functions in pregnancy, especially assisting with the formation of your babe’s teeth and bones.
While you should never feel guilty about indulging in a little antioxidant-rich, high-quality dark chocolate, you could try eating some healthier sources of magnesium to see if that curbs your sweet tooth. Green vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans are abundant in this compound. If, however, your longing for that sugary ‘je ne sais quois’ really gets the better of you, try banana bread or plain fruit – nutritious and delicious alternatives to refined sugar.
When we think of pregnancy cravings, we think of pickles. And, to a certain extent, we’d be right. In a study published by the School of Allied Health at the University of Connecticut-Storrs, researchers found women experienced an increased preference for salty food as their pregnancies progressed. Why? Well, one explanation is that elevated blood flow can trigger a hankering for sodium.
Be mindful, however, that too much sodium may exacerbate swelling in the body (something you’ll want to avoid during pregnancy, particularly in heat of the summer months!). Keep drinking plenty of water to flush your body of waste products. Oh, and if you do get a salty craving, try choosing foods that boast other nutrients, too, like pickles, olives and vegetable broth. Don’t simply gorge on highly refined, processed junk like crisps and sausages.
The same report was revelatory about sour food cravings in pregnancy. In the second and third trimester, the study discovered pregnant women developed a palette for sour treats. It’s possible this is because such foods contain nutrients that may aid with bone growth, calcium absorption and blood production.
You can get your sour fix from a range of vitamins and nutrients. Quick wins include the lactic acid in pickles, calcium in Greek yoghurt, and vitamin C in grapefruits. Adding vinegar to your meals and sandwiches is another weapon in your arsenal. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Ice cream is another popular pregnancy craving, and one that may indicate low levels of calcium. Calcium is needed for baby to remain in tip-top condition as she develops in the womb: it’s responsible for cultivating strong bones, teeth, nerves and muscles. Needless to say, it’s a vitally important nutrient. Yet, for some pregnant women, the thought of indulging in pungent cheese or even milk could make their stomachs turn. Ice cream, on the other hand, is a cooling and light way to get that much-needed calcium hit.
Of course, there’s a time and place for a getting elbow deep in a tub of ice cream. But if you’re craving it on the daily, you may want to opt for some healthy alternatives like non-fat frozen yoghurt, sorbets or fruit smoothies. And if you need to up your calcium stores, think past dairy and look to leafy greens, sardines, lentils, tofu, almonds and seeds, which are all chock-full of the stuff.
The urge to sink your teeth into a premium fillet steak or grilled chicken breast is another pregnancy yen. It’s even common for vegetarians to confront a meat-yearning dilemma in pregnancy. The explanation? Protein – or, indeed, a distinct lack of it. Yup, your hankering for that joint of beef might just indicate your pregnant body needs to up its iron and protein game.
Don’t forget cheese, milk, eggs, nuts and seeds will also pack a mighty punch to your protein reserves. Quinoa, in particular, is an abundant plant-based source.
Non-food items: coal, clay, ice, laundry detergent and hair
Food cravings over. Now onto the frankly bizarre. ‘Pica’ is characterised by a desire to eat non-nutritive items. It sounds crazy, but it does affect some pregnant women. Though an explanation for this condition is somewhat inconclusive, many experts believe it signals a possible vitamin or mineral deficiency that’s absent in ordinary food.
If you suspect you’re suffering from pica, back away from the laundry detergent and call your doctor. Experts (and good old common sense) maintain pica has the potential to be extremely dangerous, and could even be symptomatic of an underlying psychological issue.
Apart from foods (and non-foods!) that may pose a real risk to both you and your blossoming babe, it’s okay to give into cravings. Of course, we’re not condoning eating your body weight in chocolate, but sometimes full-blown deprivation can do more harm than good. As long as you’re following the pillars of optimal health during pregnancy – eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting proper sleep – not much harm is going to come from that occasional tub of Ben & Jerry’s.