Why do pregnant women get cravings?

A recent study has shown that almost 40% of pregnant women list "something sweet" as their top most pregnancy food craving. "Salty food" was craved by 33% of women during pregnancy, with spicy food preferred by 17% pregnant women, and sour or tart foods like green apples and citrus coming in fourth as 10% of pregnant women's favorite food.

Food cravings are common pregnancy symptoms. The reasons behind these pregnancy cravings or urges are not well understood. Some believe they indicate a nutritional deficiency in a pregnant diet. Such cravings for food during pregnancy are also known as "pica" cravings.

The Food Which Pregnant Women Crave

Some of the most common food cravings among pregnant women are spicy foods, sugary cravings, dairy products, sour fruit and also salty snacks. Based on such results, it is not surprising that pickles, ice cream, tomatoes and tomato sauce, cheese, lemon, and chocolates are some of the top cravings women have during pregnancy. Meat, on the other hand, is listed as one of the highest ranking foods averted during pregnancy, though it seems relatively common to crave animal fats in form of, for instance, steak fat.

Strange combinations of food like eggplant on pizza, black olives on cheesecake, pickles wrapped in cheese, have been reported by pregnant women, while exclusively craving a single food like pickled onions, salsa out of a jar, and peaches are also some of the common cravings. Often, women report having cravings for food that they never ate regularly prior to their pregnancy; similarly, many women even experience an aversion to the same food that was craved-for during pregnancy, following the birth of their baby.

One of the most uncommon and yet relatively common cravings among pregnant women is "pica" during pregnancy. Pica is a term which is used to describe cravings to eat non-food items like soap, dirt, coal, toothpaste, laundry detergent, chalk, and cigarette butts. While indulging in pica cravings can be very dangerous to both the mother and the baby's health, experts have come up with many theories as to why these weird urges arise during pregnancy.

Why Pregnant Women Crave Certain Foods

There is no ultimate answer as to why pregnant women crave certain foods during pregnancy. In fact, it is also possible for pregnant women to experience no cravings at all. Nevertheless, several explanations have been put forth by many researchers trying to find the key to pregnant diet cravings as follows:

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy can alter a woman's sense of taste as well as smell making her crave food that she would normally not have enjoyed otherwise. This can also explain why menopausal women frequently experience food cravings and aversions.

  • Temporary nutritional deficiencies can also cause cravings; however, this reason cannot explain why some women crave more than sufficient amounts of certain nutrients. Nevertheless, a craving for pickles indicates low sodium levels in the blood, while craving chocolate is triggered by vitamin B deficiency. A craving for red meat indicates a need for protein, while cravings for peaches can be a result of low beta carotene levels.

  • Emotional needs are also known to be connected with the food intake. A pregnant woman could be craving certain foods, consciously or subconsciously, as a response to some emotional needs. Many pregnant women crave nostalgic foods which remind them of their childhood or religious or cultural background, mostly if they are removed from it.

  • Warding off pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness and nausea may be another cause for certain food aversions as well as pica cravings for non-food items during pregnancy. Substances such as baking soda are known for calming digestive discomfort, while fried foods, coffee, and alcohol may induce nausea while causing harm to your baby.

How to Deal With Pregnancy Cravings

The most important rule that needs to be followed when it comes to satisfying pregnancy cravings is to choose other healthy options that are similar to the unhealthy foods that you crave. Put together some of your cravings for sweet, sour, salty, and spicy foods into a regular pregnancy diet which is nutritionally balanced. Here are some healthy alternatives to some of the common pregnancy cravings:

  • Ice cream. Choose nonfat frozen yogurt, that will meet your calcium needs without the extra calories

  • Chocolate can be replaced by nonfat chocolate syrup drizzled on top of a fresh fruit

  • Candy and Sweets can be substituted by dried fruits like apricots, or fresh tropical fruits like mango or pineapple

  • Salty Snacks. You can choose popcorn that is sprinkled with herb blends or may be sesame breadsticks with a spicy mustard dip

  • Sour Snacks. Squeeze some lemon on fish or use it in salads to ensure regular yet moderate intake instead of indulging in sugary lemonade
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