We’ve all heard of “weird” pregnancy cravings like pickles and ice cream. Pickles are a pretty stereotypical craving, but pregnant women also need a little more sodium so it shouldn’t be too surprising if you crave a pickle.
Women do often experience more cravings during pregnancy – including cravings for foods you wouldn’t eat before getting pregnant!
So what can you do when you’re craving foods you don’t want to eat – like sweets, dairy or meat when you’re strictly plant-based? Although there isn’t an agreed upon reason women experience cravings so strongly during pregnancy, there’s a lot more to pregnancy cravings than you might think.
Your relationship with some foods may also change a lot during pregnancy, and that’s completely normal too. You may also find you’re now avoiding foods you normally love. For many, food aversions during pregnancy are as common as food cravings!
What’s most important is to maintain a healthy relationship with food and eat well from conception through birth and beyond. But first let’s take a look at food cravings and why we experience them.
What Do Cravings During Pregnancy Mean?
Does pregnancy cause food cravings? Yes, but honestly no one is actually certain why pregnancy causes food cravings! Experts are still searching for answers about why cravings happen, but research shows that between 50 to 90 percent of mamas experience cravings throughout their pregnancies.
Many expectant parents also wonder if pregnancy cravings mean anything. So where do pregnancy cravings come from? Theories about why we experience food cravings during pregnancy include:
- Hormonal fluctuations and sensory changes: Our bodies go through such profound changes during pregnancy— not just physically, but hormonally too. Many expectant mothers also have a heightened sense of smell or taste during pregnancy, which can make certain foods more or less appealing than others.
- Changing nutritional needs: Because we’re eating for two— maybe even more!— we need to make sure we’re getting the nutrients we need for a healthy and more easeful pregnancy.
- A desire for comfort: Sometimes we’re just not feeling our best, and we want to reach for our favorite comfort foods. (We’ve all been there, Beauties.)
Another theory for why we get food cravings is that our bodies may be missing a particular nutrient, and the craving is our body’s way of asking for that nutrient. Even if you’re craving unhealthy foods, there may be a nutrient in them that your body needs.
Andrei Rebarber MD, associate director of the NYU Medical Center maternal-fetal medicine division says, “It’s not that the body actually needs the specific food you are craving, but it may need something in that food. And your taste buds just interpret it as a craving for something specific.”
So if you’re craving foods like chocolate or ice cream, your body may be telling you that you need more calcium or fat. If you crave salty foods, your body may need more sodium.
Similarly, a common myth states that craving salty foods means you’re having a boy, while sweet foods mean you’re having a girl. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy to tell? Unfortunately though, it isn’t true. The only way to tell for sure is with a sonogram, or seeing your baby after they’re born.
Cultural and Psychological Aspects of Cravings
Believe it or not, pregnancy food cravings are not universal! Or more accurately, the foods we may crave aren’t. There are cultural and psychological influences that influence our pregnancy cravings that we may not even realize are there until we take a closer look.
For example, while many women in the US and UK craved foods like chocolate during their pregnancies, women in non-English-speaking countries had radically different cravings when they did have them. In fact, when pregnancy cravings were reported in Japanese women, rice was the most commonly reported craving.
For many pregnant mamas, an unfortunate part of their pregnancy cravings can stem from feelings of guilt. We often hear things like “you shouldn’t eat this,” or if we’re trying to eat better we tell ourselves “I can’t eat this.” We may find ourselves in one of two camps here:
- Either we give into the cravings— “I’m pregnant, it’s okay for me to indulge a little bit” or
- We restrain ourselves, and risk losing control of our eating once we do allow ourselves to satisfy a craving.
Beauties, that is such a difficult and unfair way for you to relate to food, especially when you’re pregnant. I try to avoid the words should or shouldn’t because it creates so much shame, and having guilt or shame around what you eat often leads to unhealthy eating habits or patterns. Whether you’re already living your ideal healthy lifestyle or just getting started on your journey, it’s important for you to embrace progress, not perfection.
We’re human, and that means we live imperfect lives – perfectly imperfect lives – and sometimes it’s just not possible for us to do everything 100 percent perfectly 100 percent of the time. And that’s okay. We’re only human, after all. :)
What If I’m a Vegetarian and I’m Craving Meat?
Sometimes, even if you are vegetarian or vegan, you may crave meat during pregnancy— what to do if you are not into eating meat at all?!
If you’re craving meat, this could be a sign of iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies. According to Dr. Allison Suttle, gynecologist and chief medical officer at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, most women of reproductive age have low iron stores due to the blood loss from menstruation. Pregnant women need more iron to support their growing baby, and the blood loss from childbirth can also contribute to iron deficiencies.
On the other hand, studies have shown that between 50 and 90 percent of pregnant women crave specific foods that are high-sugar or high-fat— comfort foods— rather than nutrient-rich foods. This makes sense when you consider the cultural or psychological aspects of cravings that I mentioned earlier. We may have found comfort or joy in meat at some point in our lives, which could be the root of that craving. You may crave meat because it was once a source of comfort, not because you’re lacking certain nutrients in your diet.
Sometimes there may not be a deeper reason for cravings than a matter of taste. If you’re pregnant and crave meat, especially red meat, you may be craving the umami flavor the meat has, rather than the nutrients or perceived comfort therein. In case you’re not familiar with umami, that’s the name given to foods with a pleasing, savory flavor.
If you’ve been part of the Solluna community for a while now, then you know that meat isn’t as healthy as it’s made out to be. You’ll also know it’s not only possible to get all the nutrients you need from plant-based sources, it’s super easy!
If you’re worried about your iron stores, beans, lentils and soybeans are great sources of plant-based iron. If you’re searching for plant-based sources of umami, you also have lots of options! A few great options include mushrooms, nutritional yeast, sea vegetables like seaweed, and savory spices.
When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
Many women ask when pregnancy cravings start. As anyone may expect, it’s different for every expectant mother, but pregnancy cravings typically start at the end of the first trimester, are most frequent during the second trimester, and decline as you near your due date. Mamas also experience significantly fewer food cravings following childbirth and delivery.
What Do Pregnancy Cravings Feel Like?
If you’ve ever been pregnant, then you probably know this feeling already! While we know that pregnancy food cravings happen, there isn’t a lot of information about a pregnant woman’s experiences or behaviors pertaining to these cravings.
However, a recent study asked 68 pregnant women in their second trimesters a series of open-ended questions about their personal experiences of food cravings. Based on their answers, the study described pregnancy cravings as “urgent, food-specific, and cognitively demanding occurrences that were differentiated from hunger.”
Participants also reported a number of emotional causes or reactions revolving around their cravings, which lends credence to the idea that pregnancy cravings can be more of a psychological need than a biological one.
Common Pregnancy Cravings
Mamas, many of you have probably had that one food you craved while pregnant. I didn’t really have any unusual cravings, but I did eat a lot more of what I normally eat (fruits and vegetables, which are consistent with foods many pregnant women crave).
Some of the most common pregnancy cravings include:
- Fruits and Vegetables (although you don’t hear about these as often as other cravings! Mangos were my biggest craving!)
- Sweet foods, like chocolate or ice cream
- Starchy carbohydrates
- Processed fast food
Some mamas even crave particular food combinations, like boiled eggs with horseradish and carrots dipped in ketchup. In fact, these strange cravings are where the myth about pregnant women craving pickles and ice cream started!
Foods You May Crave, but Should Avoid During Pregnancy
Not all foods are beneficial to you and your baby. I mentioned above that pregnant mamas should avoid meat during their pregnancies, especially if they are already living a healthy plant-based lifestyle. Some other foods to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Soft Cheeses (Along with meat, I recommend removing dairy products from your diet)
I already mentioned that certain iron-rich or umami plant-based foods can help you cope with any cravings you may have for meat. The same idea goes for other foods you should avoid during pregnancy— there are so many healthy and delicious alternatives out there! Here are some that I recommend.
Alternatives to Alcohol and Caffeine
The dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are well-documented. Don’t risk it, Beauties. It’s similarly important to limit or eliminate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. This may be easier said than done for some though, especially if you like including coffee or tea in your morning routine.
A healthy alternative can make a world of difference though! Whether you’re looking for a refreshing, energy-boosting drink or a delicious, healthy refreshment, here are some great recipes for you to try.
Alternatives to Dairy Products
Dairy, especially cheeses, is a well-known comfort food. However, it’s important to avoid dairy products especially when you’re pregnant. Dairy products contain a number of toxins that can not only impact mama’s health, but baby’s too. Exposure to dioxin, a toxin that can cause reproductive, developmental and hormonal damage, is common through meat and dairy consumption.
A healthy plant-based lifestyle is low in toxins and is just so beneficial to both mother and child. What’s even better is that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort food in your healthy plant-based lifestyle— you can have both! Check out some of these recipes that can help give you the comfort and flavors you crave, but without the toxins or unhealthy aspects of dairy.
Pregnancy Cravings You Should Seek Medical Advice to Treat
While uncommon, some expectant mothers experience pica, or cravings for substances with little to no nutritional value, like ice or cornstarch, or non-food items like dirt, laundry starch or clay. Pica can indicate a nutritional deficiency, but it’s important to keep pica cravings under control if you do get them. Consuming non-food items can be harmful to mother and baby, so be sure to talk to your doctor or health care provider if you experience pica cravings.
In addition to pregnancy cravings for sweets, or meat or other foods that are less than ideal, there are many foods you’ve likely been unable to eat. That’s perfectly normal, and food aversions during pregnancy often start at the same time as your food cravings!
What are Food Aversions During Pregnancy?
Food aversions are the opposite of cravings. Sometimes there will be foods that you just can’t stand the sight, smell, or thought of— even if they were favorites before your pregnancy.
Food aversions are more likely to occur during the first trimester, when you’re more likely to be experiencing morning sickness, nausea and vomiting. A study by the Journal of Food and Nutrition Research found a connection between food aversions and nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
That makes a lot of sense— if you associate certain foods with the discomfort of morning sickness, then you are probably going to try and avoid those triggers to prevent nausea or vomiting.
Some common food aversions include:
- Eggs and Dairy
- Spicy Food
- Caffeinated drinks, like coffee or tea
Every pregnancy is different and the foods some mamas may crave could be foods another mama can’t stand. We may even begin to like foods we used to dislike, or dislike foods we used to love. For example, many women develop an aversion to coffee during their pregnancies because of its taste, possibly due to an increased sensitivity to bitter flavors.
A study published by the New York Academy of Sciences has found that changes in taste intensity and preference may be an innate sense to help support healthy pregnancy outcomes. Namely, increased sensitivity to bitter flavors during the first trimester may protect a mother against ingesting poisons, where changes in preference to salty and sour flavors may support consuming a more varied diet.
Similarly, food aversions can help guard against disease by motivating a pregnant woman to avoid potential contaminants. During the first trimester, both mother and child are more vulnerable to pathogens, especially food-borne pathogens. In a sense, women are wired to avoid these pathogens thanks to her heightened disgust sensitivity.
The human body is a fascinating thing, Beauties. During pregnancy, our bodies go through so many profound physical, emotional and biological changes both for our benefit, as well as our growing baby’s. It’s amazing how our bodies can do all this for us, and we may not even know it!
How to Cope with Your Cravings and Aversions
If you’re a newly pregnant mama (congratulations!) then all this information about cravings and aversions may seem like a lot to process. If you’re experiencing a lot of new cravings or suddenly hating foods you normally love, don’t worry! The right approach can make even the strongest cravings and aversions super manageable, so you can get back to enjoying your pregnancy. :)
1: Listen to Your Body
Beauties, it’s important to listen to your body during pregnancy— eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and always stick to the foods that make you feel good after eating them.
2: Find Alternatives Where Necessary
I talked about this a lot already, so I’ll make it quick here! There are so many great alternatives out there for foods we either no longer consume in our healthy plant-based diets, or foods we love that we may now have aversions for.
3: Don’t Feel Guilty for Satisfying Cravings
It’s okay to indulge every once in a while as long as you still stick to your healthy lifestyle afterwards. Don’t feel guilty if you absolutely must have that chocolate, or go for the salty snack. Our lives aren’t perfect, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of any perceived imperfections. Our lives are a constant work-in-progress— and that’s what we should value. Progress over perfection.
There’s a lot that we as mamas can do to make sure that we and our babies are happy and healthy, but it’s also important to know that our diets don’t always have to be perfect for us to be healthy.
I’ve been saying it a lot here, but it is very important nonetheless: Listen to your body. Your body will know what it needs to ensure that you and your baby are happy and healthy throughout your pregnancy. Cravings and even aversions are a normal part of pregnancy, but a proper diet can help make your pregnancy go as easefully as possible.
To help you achieve the most healthful pregnancy possible I’ve created a plant-based pregnancy course launching early 2022 that covers all of the best foods to eat while pregnant-cravings or not! Going beyond food.
I’ve also interviewed experts and shared my own knowledge and expertise in all aspects of health, covering our Four Cornerstones for True Beauty which include: Food, Body, Emotional Well-Being and Spiritual Growth. You can request a notification when the course goes live!