Food Cravings in Pregnancy – What do they mean?
Pregnancy. That time in a woman’s life when she feels her body is not her own, and often feels like her food cravings are being driven by something other than her taste buds!
We’ve all heard stories of late night trips to the grocery store, or impromptu stops at a drive-thru. And, in my practice I hear daily accounts of insatiable cravings for fruit (especially citrus) and aversions to foods such as meat, among others. I often joke that the first trimester should be labelled the “bread and cheese” trimester! Sound familiar?
And then there are women who don’t crave a particular food, but all food, and lots of it. And occasionally, even non-food items such as dirt and clay. Pregnancy cravings are as old womankind, but do they mean anything?
Pica is the practice of craving substances with little or no nutritional value. Most pregnancy and pica related cravings involve non-food substances such as dirt, or chalk. The word pica is Latin for magpie which is a bird notorious for eating almost anything. Some studies have linked pica to iron-deficiency, which has along been linked to a craving for ice. Eating non-food substances is not recommended and should be discussed with your health care provider so a cause can be found.
Many moms-to-be experience increased appetite during pregnancy, even in the first trimester when nausea may be at play. Progesterone likely plays a role here. But, another hormone called leptin may also be responsible. Leptin is a hormone that reduces appetite and stimulates metabolism by interacting with receptors at the “appetite center” of the hypothalamus. But, during pregnancy women become resistant to leptin, meaning that their “appetite control” centre isn’t working like it used to (1,2).
So, if you feel like you want to eat more, you probably do!
75% of women also report changes in taste and smell. Increased taste perception is very common, and may account for why some women become averse to foods they once loved, and crave others rarely eaten before pregnancy (3). So there very well may be a physiological reason for those cravings!
But, what does MY craving mean and what should I do about it?
Think you’re craving ice cream because you need calcium, or orange juice to get more vitamin C? While that may be the case, studies have yet to make a conclusive link. So, should you indulge that craving? The short answer is maybe.
I promote the 80/20 rule of eating. If your craving falls into the 20%, then by all means indulge from time to time. Do make sure that the 80% covers the basics – protein, healthy fats and healthy carbs. And, if you’re craving non-food substances there may be an underlying cause that needs to be ruled out. Confused about what to eat (and not eat!) during pregnancy? Our Naturopathic Prenatal visits cover all of that and more.
1. Bajoria, R., Sooranna, S. R., Ward, B. S., & Chatterjee, R. (2002). Prospective function of placental leptin at maternal-fetal interface. Placenta, 23(2-3), 103-115. doi:10.1053/plac.2001.0769
2. Brennan, A. M., & Mantzoros, C. S. (2006). Drug insight: The role of leptin in human physiology and pathophysiology–emerging clinical applications. Nature Clinical Practice. Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2(6), 318-327. doi:10.1038/ncpendmet0196
3. Nordin, S., Broman, D. A., Olofsson, J. K., & Wulff, M. (2004). A longitudinal descriptive study of self-reported abnormal smell and taste perception in pregnant women. Chemical Senses, 29(5), 391-402. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjh040