Pregnancy cravings normally start towards the end of the first trimester, gain momentum throughout the second and then dip off during the third trimester.
Not all women will experience distinct cravings, although having a change in your appetite is extremely common and usually nothing to worry about. However, if you are craving soil, soap, charcoal, paper or non-edible items of this nature this could indicate a condition called Pica, or iron deficiency anaemia, which can increase during pregnancy.
The most common cravings I see amongst my clients are for energy dense foods such as simple carbohydrates including chips, pizza, pasta, salty foods and sugary snacks like sweets, chocolate and ice cream. Some women may experience a sudden desire for unusual pairings of foods they have previously never enjoyed, for example peanut butter and honey.
This is generally thought to be down to the drastic shift in hormones and growing demands for blood flow and energy that pregnancy brings. Your body is going through a period of rapid cell division, not only growing a baby, but also a whole new organ in the form of the placenta. This is an extremely demanding process that can frequently lead to nutritional deficiencies. This may then result in very specific cravings in order that these nutrients be met. On top of this, during pregnancy women also have a heightened sense of smell and taste, which can lead to more intensified feelings of hunger and less desirable food aversions & sickness.
Common cravings & Possible Causes
Craving salty foods is probably one of the most common food preferences during pregnancy, particularly in the early stages. This could be due to low levels of sodium. Try to limit salty crisps and fried foods as they have higher levels of unhealthy trans fats in them, which can be bad news for our cholesterol levels.
Instead opt for naturally occurring sodium in olives, anchovies, seaweed or by seasoning food with Himalayan pink salt, which has a higher mineral content
Chocolate feels like the perfect pick me up if the pregnancy hormones have got you feeling emotional. We often crave it when we are feeling run down or tired (hello first trimester!). Chocolate contains high levels of a chemical compound called tryptophan, which produces the happy hormone serotonin in your brain. In short, chocolate makes us feel good and leaves us wanting more the next time we feel down.
Be mindful that chocolate can contain high levels of fat, added sugars and calories so try not to consume it in large quantities. Where possible try switching to dark chocolate, which has a lower sugar content and contains more naturally occurring antioxidants. If you are constantly craving sweet treats, opt for fruit, plain yogurt or fresh smoothies that will give you a sugar boost but also bolster your nutritional intake.
Red meat is one of the highest food sources of iron and protein. If you are craving meat, it could be a sign that you have iron deficiency or potential anaemia. This is extremely common during pregnancy and other symptoms include extreme fatigue and low energy. Your midwife and GP will monitor iron levels throughout your pregnancy to keep a check on this.
If you suffer from morning sickness the chances are fizzy drinks are all you feel like you can stomach. Try to avoid daily consumption of soda though, as these contain high levels of sugars and additives. These can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels which not only affect our mood and energy levels but can also increase the risk of gestational diabetes.
Try sparkling water instead or filtered water mixed with chopped fruits to add subtle flavour.
During pregnancy your body's internal temperature gauge is all over the place, again down to those pesky hormones. Eating spicy foods can lead to sweating, which is our natural way of regulating our core temperature and cooling us down. If you are desperate for some chillies, you may just be having a pregnancy hot flush.
During pregnancy, your body will drain all your nutrient reserves and prioritise giving this to the baby. Therefore, it's so important to eat a varied diet that can support both you and your baby. Fruit is packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre that are essential for optimal health, so when you crave this, you can absolutely roll with it and enjoy.
Always opt for fresh or frozen fruit over tinned or dried as they tend to have less sugar content. Be mindful of fruit intake if you are suffering with gestational diabetes, because even naturally occurring sugar can impact insulin levels.
Another common craving is dairy in the form of cheese and ice cream. This may be linked to a calcium deficiency.
Try to increase food sources such as milk, yoghurt, fortified milk alternatives and cereals, fruits, and veggies such as broccoli, kale, collard greens and limit things like ice cream which are less nutritionally dense
Overall, it’s important to listen to your body and what it is trying to tell you.
It's ok to indulge in slightly unhealthier cravings every now and then but try not to make it a daily habit that could impact your overall health. Moderation is key here, so when cravings for junk food hit, try to distract yourself to take your mind off it. If it persists, think about what that craving could be telling you and try to find a healthier alternative that will nourish you and your baby.
From a nutritional point of view the best way to head off cravings is to eat balanced meals throughout the day, instead of continually grazing or snacking on low nutrient foods. I always advise clients to focus on a Mediterranean style of eating, which promotes consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils every day. Intake of animal products such as poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy a few times a week and limiting processed foods as much as possible.
Think About What Goes On Your Plate
Think about each meals composition and try to stick to a healthy plate model, which includes half a plate of vegetables, 1/4 lean protein sources (including vegetarian options), 1/4 complex carbohydrates and a thumb size portion of healthy fats.
Try to stay active as this will help combat fatigue and energy slumps that are common in the first trimester, and stay hydrated, aiming to drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
Finally look at your bedtime routine and sleeping patterns. The target is to be getting 8 hours of sleep per night, which can be achieved by switching off from technology at least 1 hour prior to getting into bed, creating a relaxing sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants past lunchtime (coffee, chocolate, green tea etc).
If you would like to more guidance on what to eat during your pregnancy, or you're concerned about your cravings, why not book in a free discovery call with Gail today.
There’s no commitment, and all calls are a private and safe space to discuss your concerns.
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Gail Madalena is a registered nutritional therapist specialising in fertility, pregnancy and women’s health. Her expertise lies in hormonal imbalances, such as irregular cycles, debilitating PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid issues and sub-optimal fertility. Her goal is to reduce hormonal side effects and symptoms by addressing the root cause of the issue. Gail helps couples optimise your nutrition and lifestyle choices, supporting you on your journey to achieving a healthy pregnancy.