From what pregnancy cravings mean to how to deal with them in a healthy way, here’s what experts know—and what’s simply hearsay.
Cravings and pregnancy seem to go together like peanut butter and chocolate—or pickles and ice cream. Are these overwhelming urges to eat certain foods caused by pregnancy itself? And, if so, how much should you pay attention to them? It can help to separate the myths from the truths about food cravings during pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant, you’ll soon start to crave something: MYTH
Although food cravings during pregnancy are common, they’re not guaranteed. Between 50 and 90 percent of new moms have food cravings.1 Neither having them nor not having them means that there’s anything wrong with your pregnancy.
Most pregnant women crave the same few foods: MYTH
Exactly what a new mom gets a yen to eat varies by culture1, research finds. Sweets, dairy, starchy foods, and fast foods are more commonly craved than salty or savory foods in the U.S.1 One study of Tanzanians, in contrast, found that meat and mangoes were the big craves.2
Pregnant women crave nutrients their diets lack: MYTH
There’s no good evidence that, say, wanting ice cream means you need calcium, researchers say.1 You shouldn’t go by your pregnancy cravings to determine your pregnancy diet. Stick to a well-balanced diet as much as you can.3,4
You might wind up craving a food you dislike: TRUTH
Scientists aren’t completely sure what triggers a mad desire for, say, sardines. Shifting hormones in pregnancy seem to play a role—they can alter your sense of smell and taste, influencing your preference for certain foods.1-3 Some women wind up craving foods during pregnancy they didn’t like before.1
It’s also common to develop food aversions during pregnancy, which is sort of the opposite of cravings.2,3This may be a natural way of avoiding foods that could trigger morning sickness.1,2
What you crave is a clue to your child’s gender: MYTH
This is a popular belief but it has no grounding in scientific surveys or research on pregnancy cravings to date.1
Cravings increase all through pregnancy: MYTH
Pregnancy cravings tend to start during the first trimester and peak in frequency and intensity during the second, then begin to slow.1
Some women develop cravings during pregnancy for ice, dirt, and other nonfoods: TRUTH
One kind of pregnancy craving definitely should be resisted. In addition to ice and dirt, other nonfoods that pregnant women have been drawn to eat include clay, laundry starch, wax, or coffee grounds. These are all examples of an eating problem known as pica.1,2 It’s not uncommon, so don’t be embarrassed, but do talk to your doctor because these pregnancy cravings can rob you and your developing baby of the real food nutrition you both need.3
It’s OK to give in to your pregnancy cravings: TRUTH
Within reason, that is. Food cravings during pregnancy can be linked with unhealthy weight gain, too fast.1,3 Try swapping healthier choices, such as carrots for chips (if you crave crunch) or a small square of dark chocolate instead of a large brownie (if you crave chocolate). Keep your cravings safe; avoid undercooked or raw seafood, like sushi, and unpasteurized milk products, like feta cheese. Maybe avoid buying in bulk too, so you don’t have mass quantities of temptations around.3
1Orloff NC, Hormes JM. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Frontiers in Psychology 2014 Sep 23; 5:1076
2Nyaruhucha CN Food cravings, aversions and pica among pregnant women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Tanzania Journal of Health Research 2009 Jan; 11(1):29-34.