Food cravings during pregnancy: Fact or Fiction?

As long as there have been pregnancies and potato chips, there have been pregnant women pondering food cravings.

When you have a craving, do you want pickles all wrapped up in cheese at 3am? Maybe you fantasize about sweet or salty. Or, maybe you eat around the meat and just gobble up the fat around your steak. (Aaack!)

About half of women in the United States report at least one food craving during pregnancy. In some cases, these are foods that the mother-to-be never ate before becoming pregnant. Sometimes these strong cravings leave as quickly as they appeared. Women may avoid the food they desperately desired while pregnant from the moment their child is born.

So, what’s the reason for crazy cravings? To some degree, cravings are caused by changes in a woman’s body during pregnancy. Hormones can play a big role because hormonal change during pregnancy can affect taste and smell.

Food cravings and food aversions are two sides of the same coin. Early in pregnancy you could find yourself walking in the door to your husband cooking up a dish you normally enjoy. This time, however, one whiff has you dry heaving and rushing to the bathroom. Sometimes food isn’t the culprit. Something as simple as the smell of toothpaste when you’re brushing your teeth can have you gagging.

There have been dozens of studies on pregnancy cravings with sweet or sour foods topping the list of desired items. Some nutritionists and healthcare practitioners believe food cravings are meaningful. For example, a shortage of magnesium can trigger a craving for chocolate. (Now I know what drove me to eat those large bags of M&M’s.) If chocolate is your weakness, consider replacing it with magnesium-rich foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and green vegetables. According to another study, women craving peaches may need beta-carotene. Most of the time, however, studies show there is no link between cravings and nutritional needs.

Of course not all pregnancy cravings are as harmless as chocolate or peaches. There is a condition called pica wherein women begin to crave bizarre substances such as laundry starch, flour, dirt, and so on when they are pregnant.  These cravings aren’t normal, and it’s important to speak with your doctor if this sounds like you. Likewise, if you know someone else with cravings that seem out of the ordinary or dangerous, encourage them to talk with their doctor, too.

Cravings can be hard to ignore, no question. A well-balanced diet (with the occasional ice cream run) is the best way to make it through this interesting time. A great sense of humor over suddenly loving anchovies couldn’t hurt, either.

We want to know: What’s the weirdest craving you had when you were pregnant?  Let us know in the comments.

If you have questions about food cravings with your pregnancy— or any other health concern — call 317-338-4HER to talk to a registered nurse.

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