If you've ever been pregnant, it's likely you've also had a food craving. Whether it was pickles, pineapple, peanut butter, cheeseburgers or jelly beans, these cravings are as unique as the person who craves them.
Why do you crave?
Though some women escape cravings, no one knows for sure why most pregnant women find themselves stalking the kitchen by day or ordering their spouses out at all hours of the night. A few of the popular theories are:
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy may alter your sense of taste and smell. This can make you crave (or avoid) certain foods you normally do or don't eat.
- Need for more calories. Cravings may be your body's way of increasing your caloric needs, which are greater during pregnancy.
- Temporary nutritional deficiencies. A craving for pickles could signal a need for sodium, while a craving for red meat may mean a need for iron or protein. Studies have not been able to show a link, though.
- Emotional needs may be a factor. Many pregnant women crave nostalgic foods like ice cream that remind them of their childhoods. Hormones can also make you feel nauseous, bloated, tired or irritable, which may cause cravings for comfort foods.
How to manage cravings
So, should you give in to your dietary urges? It's perfectly fine to have a little fun with your cravings, but don't go overboard. Your body only requires an extra 300 calories a day - the amount in just half a cup of premium ice cream!
As long as you make a healthy diet your top priority, you can then work in those extras for fun. Here are some tips:
Eat a balanced diet to keep blood sugars even. Try to have lean protein, whole-grain carbs and/or healthy fat with every meal or snack. Some examples could be:
- Cottage cheese with sliced fresh fruit and almonds
- Turkey and avocado on whole-grain bread
- Oatmeal with low-fat milk and walnuts
- Salad with salmon or chicken in olive oil vinaigrette
- Natural peanut butter and banana on whole-wheat bread
- Hummus and veggies in whole-grain pita
Eat regularly. This is also important for keeping blood sugars even and energy up. Start with a good breakfast and have smaller, regular meals or snacks every two to three hours.
Exercise. Regular, moderate exercise can lift your mood and may help ward off cravings. As long as you have clearance from your doctor, aim for 30 minutes most days of the week.
Distract yourself when a craving first hits. Go for a walk, call a friend, do a crossword puzzle. If your craving doesn't go away in 20 minutes, go ahead and indulge, within reason.
Sneak nutrition into your favorite "crave" foods. Consider the following healthy alternatives to some common pregnancy cravings:
- Instead of ice cream, go for low-fat frozen yogurt, tofutti, sherbet or Italian ices. Or make yourself a smoothie by blending low-fat milk with frozen fruit and cranberry or orange juice.
- Instead of mounds of rich chocolate, try low-fat chocolate pudding, chocolate sorbet or a mini-size chocolate bar. Go for the real thing if you can keep the portions under control.
- Instead of potato chips, snack on whole-grain tortillas dipped in salsa, or microwave low-fat popcorn.
Seek out emotional support. Share your concerns, fears or anxieties with people you trust. It's common to turn to food when all you really need is a hug.
Finally, talk to your doctor at once if you find yourself craving non-food substances like cheap eriacta, chalk, clay or laundry starch. Eating these substances can be harmful to you and your baby. This is a condition known as "pica," and it may indicate an iron deficiency.