What are they? And what do they mean?
When I was pregnant with my first, all I wanted was carrots with cheese and pickled ginger. I guess it could have been worse, and yes my daughter now eats all three of those foods.
Cravings can kick in during the first trimester, often timed with the start of morning sickness. They peak in the second trimester, and start to go away by the third.
RELATED: Combating morning sickness
So what are some common cravings, and what might they mean?
- Sweets such as icecream
- Dairy such as cheese or sour cream
- Starchy carbohydrates
- Fast food
- And surprisingly fruit and veg
In the UK the most common cravings are;
- Ice pops / ice blocks
Going down a nearly opposite path, a survey done in Tanzania found the most common cravings were;
- Soft drinks
So it looks as though cravings might be a bit country specific…it isn’t like they run out of plantains in the UK right before a baby boom!
But what are the commonalities of these foods?
They are either high in fat, salt, or sugar, or a combination of both. You don’t see much fish, salads, or stirfry veg on that list.
Let’s break the cravings down.
These are things such as icecream, candy, chocolate, iceblocks, starchy carbs, and soft drinks.
It is thought that cravings for sweet foods might be related to hormone changes during pregnancy which affect blood sugar levels. This can leave you feeling very tired, and low in energy.
The change in hormones also affects our dopamine levels. Dopamine is a feel good, or happy hormone. It lifts your mood. Unsurprisingly things we love also give us a hit of dopamine, such as high sugar foods!
Things such as meat, dairy, and fast food.
This may be due to not consuming enough calories. Protein and fat are quick ways to fuel up. Protein fills you up, and fat delivered twice as many calories per gram as any other macronutrient.
Is it the salt in fast food you are loving? Then magnesium could be your issue.
The question is why not healthier versions? If we are really craving these nutrients, why are we not wanting them from more nutrient dense foods?
In essence, our drive for comfort foods doesn’t change just because we are pregnant. These types of foods are typically quick and easy to prepare, hold positive memories, and are bland on a queasy stomach.
We have been driven to them throughout human history because they deliver high energy in the form of a tasty combination of fat and sugar.
What about the ‘weird’ cravings?
Like ice, sand, dirt, and chalk?
These cravings are actually not at all ‘weird’ during pregnancy. In fact, they can become quite common! However, they can also be not so good for your health.
So how can you make healthier choices?
The problem with these cravings in pregnancy, is that with morning sickness, decreased stomach space, and increased nutrient needs, wasting calories on nutrient poor food choices can have serious consequences.
Everything your baby needs for growth and development, both in the womb, and for the first 6 months afterwards, come from you. No pressure!
So whilst the odd cheese burger isn’t going to be an issue, having one every day may actually cause some vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Here are some tips to deal with those cravings;
1. Make eating healthy easy
One of the biggest drive behind our cravings is ease of access. Remember those craving differences between countries? It was about what was readily available and a cultural norm. So make healthy food easily available.
Premake some homemade mac-n-cheese, go wild with some low sugar baking – high fiber baking, stock up on frozen veg…pop everything in the freezer and you have easy access.
2. Have healthy remakes of your comfort food
It is not just about having healthy food easily accessible. It is about the RIGHT healthy food. You want to make sure you are still satisfying that urge for comfort food.
Here are some ideas.
- Instead of bought icecream how about using cocoa, greek yoghurt, and milk in your icecream maker for a yummy frozen treat.
- You can recreate burger bliss at home, using BBQ jackfruit, and a lightly pan fried mix of red cabbage, mushrooms, and sliced capsicum. Pop some oven chips on the side.
- Opt for dark chocolate or a low calorie hot chocolate drink instead of munching away on candy and sugary milk chocolate.
- Another option for a sweet tooth is to have fruit on hand, especially apples and oranges. You could even melt a little cooking chocolate and fondue it.
- If savoury is your thing, you could add nutritional yeast to your ‘cheesy’ dishes, to give the cheese flavour without the saturated fat and calories.
3. Pre-plan your week
One of the biggest downfalls we have to eating healthy is to not plan our weeks properly. Especially when there is a baby on the way, things can get quite busy.
Plan out your week in advance, put together a little menu, and stick to your list at the supermarket. Better yet…get your shop delivered! It saves a heap of time at the supermarket, saves your healthy eating, and your budget.
4. Gather a support crew
Did you know that partners also gain pregnancy weight? There is even a name for it ‘sympathy weight’. Because if you are having take-out, there is a good chance your partner is too.
Make a pact with your partner. No late night dashes to the supermarket, or fast food drive through…okay maybe one night per week. But sort out who can cook on what night, what snack food should be kept in the house, and how you can help each other stay on track for a healthy pregnancy.
5. You’re not eating for two
Despite what you’ve heard, you are still only really eating for one…and a bit. In reality, your biggest calorie need comes after pregnancy when you are breastfeeding.
During pregnancy you need more vitamins and minerals, but not many more calories than normal.
Many of us see pregnancy as an opportunity to eat all those things we wish we could when we are not pregnant…as it is now ‘baby weight’.
6. Remember your supplement
Above all, one of the most important things is to remember to take your prenatal multivitamins. This is for multiple reasons.
- It is quite hard to get the vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy from food alone. Your requirements bump right up, and with nausea, fatigue, cravings, and general busy-ness it is hard to get what you need.
- The vitamins and minerals in multivitamins, especially B-Vitamin group help to regulate your hormones, which in turn supports an even blood sugar level, which may reduce sugar fuelled cravings.
- The essential fatty acids, and fat soluble vitamins, will help with cravings for fattier foods like your fast foods and many packaged foods.
Focusing on your health is even more important during pregnancy, so use those pesky cravings your to advantage, and give your body what it needs.