We’ve all heard the stories; your pregnant friend or your mom’s co-worker who had cravings for the silliest things like ice cream with green olives, or dill pickle and horseradish sandwiches. They certainly sound like crazy food combinations, so what exactly is the science behind pregnancy cravings? What are they and why do they happen?
It is thought that about 60 to 80% of pregnant women are bound to crave a certain food, or strange combination thereof. A study performed at the University of Connecticut has found that depending on the trimester that you are in during your pregnancy can have an affect on what types of food that you crave and those that you’ll have an aversion to. During the first trimester, expectant mom’s are likely to taste certain flavors more intensely, and are turned off by strong smelling and bitter foods. Researchers like to look at this from an evolutionary perspective. It is thought that because a pregnant woman’s taste buds are heightened and more sensitive during pregnancy, that this helped early women stay away from foods that were poisonous or that had spoiled, thus sparing the unborn child from the toxins that those foods held.
What Causes Cravings?
There are actually many factors that determine why pregnant women crave certain foods. Much like when we crave chocolate when we are on our menstrual cycles, hormones do play a part in pregnancy cravings, but aren’t entirely the cause of them. Other reasons that we have cravings could also be in part to a deficiency in our bodies, such as if you crave potato chips, you may be lacking sodium, or if you want red meat, your body may need some protein. Sometimes during pregnancy, you might crave certain foods because frankly, they make you feel good. Foods that contain carbohydrates and tryptophan will give your body a boost in to the neuro-chemical serotonin, thus making you happier in general.
There are extreme cases in which pregnant women have cravings for non-food substances, such as chalk, dirt, laundry powder, cigarette butts and ashes, coffee grounds, baking soda and more. This is called pica, which is also known as non-food cravings, and is defined by the American Pregnancy Association as “the practice of craving substances with little or no nutritional value.” There is usually an underlying cause to this, likely due to a deficiency in a certain mineral or nutrient. If you have any strange cravings for non-food substances, it is important that you get in contact with your healthcare professional as soon as possible to pinpoint the source of the problem, so that it can be taken care of promptly.
While all cravings aren’t awful, giving in to them too often can be detrimental to both your health and your child’s. If you’re craving a chocolate bar, instead of buying the king sized one, opt for the smaller size. You are still satisfying your cravings, while not breaking your nutritional bank. If you do find yourself craving foods all too often, there are a few things that you can do to distract yourself from them. First, it is best to keep healthy foods in your home, you are less likely to give in to a craving if you don’t have the food you are craving readily available to you. You can also eat small meals throughout the day to curb your desire to indulge in overly sweet foods. If a craving does it, you can try to get your mind off of it by heading outside and going for a walk, or even heading to your nearest gym.
Now that you know the why and how of pregnancy cravings, you’ll understand them a little better when you wake up at 3 AM craving a jelly doughnut!