As her belly swells with new life, new tricks are played on her mind and body. It’s 3am and the only way her cause-less anxiety can cool off is by downing that bar of chocolate her young brother-in-law bought for her from somewhere abroad. Or is it that packet of chips? Or both, but definitely not the meat!
Her hormones, as scientists suspect, intrude her sanity and her body, and the latter reacts by seeking calibration. Pregnancy impacts women’s preferences to taste and smell dramatically, making them partial towards certain food and completely disgusted by others.
Statistically, more than three-fourths of all women experience food cravings during pregnancy, now more than previous generations.
Chocolate is surveyed to be the most common food craving, followed by ice cream, sweets, spicy food, pickled onions, tropical fruit, curry, doughnuts, marmite, peanut butter, potatoes and nuts. However the cravings aren’t limited to these at all — they run a gamut.
Mothers-to-be have reported cravings for odd combinations of food, the most common being pickles and peanut butter, tuna, banana, etc. Women reported that cravings mostly struck in the afternoon or in the evening, with only some sneaking off for midnight snacks.
What do food cravings mean?
Different specialists offer different explanations. Aside from the “it’s the pregnancy hormones” answer, some nutritionists and healthcare practitioners believe that certain cravings can reflect other underlying issues. For example, alternative medicine practitioners believe that a shortage of magnesium can trigger a craving for chocolate. The boost in blood volume increases your need for sodium — hence, you crave pickles or ‘achar.’
Often the pregnancy diet lacks essential fatty acids. Some fats (and the fatty acids they contain) are particularly important during pregnancy because they support your baby’s brain and eye development both before and after birth. When women start taking fish oil, healthy nuts, or flax seeds, their food cravings disappear. Similarly, craving red meat is a sure sign of the body’s cry for more its building blocks — protein, and so on.
Others say that food cravings don’t mean much other than changes in your body seeking calibration. In fact many say most food cravings stem from emotional turbulences and occupying one with enjoyable activities and fun, happy people helps more than a tub of ice cream. However, it doesn’t hurt to respond through healthier food substitutes too, right?
“Should I give in?”
Yes, at least some of the times! These cravings do not usually last past the end of the last trimester anyway. Bear in mind though, large amounts of processed salt and sweet food can contribute to pregnancy-related conditions such as hypertension and gestational diabetes. Find healthy substitutes as much as you can. For instance, replace a salt-based craving for chips through saltine crackers, curd and fruits in a cup instead of ice cream, etc.
So, how should you handle salt and sweet cravings?
Start your day right by having a big, healthy breakfast filled with complex carbohydrates and protein. Complex carbohydrates comprise of whole wheat/brown rice, bread or lal ruti. Team it up with eggs and a serving or two of vegetables and a glass of low-fat milk and you are set. Eat meals the rest of the day in small amounts but in regular intervals along with plenty of water.
As mentioned above, choosing healthier substitutes is the best way to handle food cravings to a large degree. Here are some suggestions:
Unsweetened fresh juice instead of fruit juice loaded with processed sugar and little nutritional value.
Unsalted nuts and home-cooked unsalted popcorn instead of chips.
Peanut butter with crackers or toasted bread instead of high-sugar biscuits.
Baked chicken or sautéed fish instead of fried chicken.
Steamed vegetables and chicken with whole-wheat spaghetti instead of cheesy fetuccinis.
Sometimes having something sour quells the monstrous cravings. Have a cup of low-fat yoghurt or salad sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and watch the cravings calm down.
A tale of weird cravings
Although not very common, many women report to have cravings for non-food items such as laundry starch, cigarette butts, dirt and ice — a condition known as “pica”. It’s important to seek medical attention for pica cravings because they could mean you’re deficient in certain nutrients, and because they can be hard to resist. Needless to say, actually eating some nonfood stuff could be dangerous.