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Food Cravings And What They Mean

What do pregnant women crave? We did a survey, and almost 40 percent said, "Give me something sweet." Slightly fewer (33 percent) chose salty snacks. Fans of Mexican food and other spicy cuisine came in third (17 percent). Trailing (at 10 percent) were those who craved citrus fruit, green apples, and other lip-puckering tart or sour foods.

What do food cravings mean?

Some nutritionists and healthcare providers believe that certain cravings are meaningful. For example, some experts think that craving large amounts of ice and nonfood substances, such as laundry starch and dirt or clay (a condition called pica), are linked to an iron or zinc deficiency, though there's not enough research to support a cause and effect relationship.

San Francisco midwife and herbalist Cynthia Belew says some food cravings may be worth paying attention to. For example, alternative medicine practitioners believe that a shortage of magnesium can trigger a craving for chocolate. Foods that contain magnesium include whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and green vegetables such as spinach.

Belew has also found that many of her patients need more essential fatty acids in their diet. When they start taking fish oil or flax oil, their food cravings disappear.

Similarly, a craving for red meat seems like a transparent cry for protein. And the mom in our survey who said she consumed great quantities of peaches may have been responding to her body's need for beta carotene.

Brown agrees that in some cases there might be a biological cause for cravings. She points to pregnant women who develop an aversion to certain foods or drinks that might be harmful (like diet soda, coffee, or alcohol).

Somer, on the other hand, doesn't see much of a link between a pregnant woman's cravings and what her body needs.

"People think their cravings are significant, but studies show no link between cravings and nutritional requirements," she says. "If people craved what the body needs, we would all eat more broccoli and less chocolate."

And at this point the evidence – while hard to ignore – is anecdotal.

"There's no scientific explanation for food cravings. There's no data saying that what a woman craves is related to something her body or her baby needs, and there's no data to support that typical pregnancy food cravings are harmful, either," explains Brown.

What to do about your cravings

In the end, the experts we consulted agreed that you should pay attention to your pregnancy cravings – indulging the healthy ones and coming up with alternatives for less healthy cravings.

"Most cravings and aversions are more interesting than serious and, for the most part, can be indulged in moderation," Somer says. "A healthful diet is one that meets your nutritional and your emotional needs as well as your preferences."

She recommends that pregnant women humor their cravings rather than fight them by substituting low-fat frozen yogurt for ice cream, for example. Craving sweets is sometimes the result of a drop in blood sugar, so eating small, frequent meals may also help curb that desire to indulge in desserts.

Other ways to curb unhealthy cravings: Eat breakfast every day (skipping breakfast can make cravings worse), get plenty of exercise, and make sure you have lots of emotional support.

If you find yourself craving nonfood items, such as starch, chalk, flour, dirt, or large amounts of ice, mention it to your healthcare provider. Some studies estimate that more than a third of pregnant women have similar cravings. Because some nonfood cravings can affect your health, it's especially important to mention them to your provider.

what do you want to eat during pregnancy?
  • sweet like chocolate
  • salty snacks
  • spicy food
  • sour foods like green apples
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