There are so many expectations about what you’ll go through during pregnancy, but perhaps most publicized are pregnancy cravings and aversions.
Pickles and ice cream?
Nauseous at the smell of raw meat?
Unshakeable need for sushi?
Utter disgust at the sight of green vegetables?
I certainly expected to have weird cravings when I was pregnant and I feared that I would have aversions to healthy foods. Yours may or may not be like the list above, but there’s a good chance you’ll run into cravings and aversions at some point during your pregnancy.
How Common are Pregnancy Cravings and Food Aversions?
Research shows that up to 90% of women experience cravings during pregnancy, with most occurring during the first and second trimesters. (Food Cravings, 2015)
Although common, cravings and aversions typically don’t last your entire pregnancy. They usually pop up for a few days/weeks/months at a time (I know, I know, a few months can feel like an eternity!). Aversions are especially tough and go beyond “I’m not in the mood for xyz”; It’s more of a “If I smell, taste, see, or even think of that food, I’m gonna hurl.” It’s no surprise that food aversions tend to go hand in hand with nausea.
I like to give this reminder in case you’re in one of those tough phases. Most of the time, it will pass, you just have to give yourself some grace and be patient. Even if the rational part of your brain thinks this is crazy, you’ve got to trust your body.
What Causes Pregnancy Cravings and Food Aversions?
No one really knows why pregnancy causes certain cravings and food aversions, but plenty of theories are out there, ranging from metabolic and hormonal changes to nutritional deficits, to even cultural and psychosocial factors. There’s some speculation that food aversions may serve a protective purpose, such as preventing you from eating foods that could make you sick or a combination of nutrients that’s not right for your body.
When it comes to cravings, sometimes they are not necessarily pregnancy-specific, but a sign that your blood sugar or diet is imbalanced. Refined carbs, sugar, and processed foods trigger cravings in virtually everyone, pregnant or not. In this case, cravings for unhealthy foods may be a reminder to eat a more balanced diet of real food (and to prioritize getting enough fat + protein at meals to stay satiated).
There is no one-size-fits-all mechanism here; there are many underlying reasons that cravings and food aversions show up in pregnancy. Your job is to stay mindful of the possible reasons and do your best to determine whether riding it out or making some dietary tweaks is the best path forward.
For most health-conscious moms, pregnancy cravings and food aversions come with a lot of self judgement and guilt. “I really want to like eggs right now, but all my body wants is crackers!” I, too, had a lot of those thoughts when food aversions were at their height.
For the most part, cravings and aversions are nothing to fear and not a sign that anything is wrong. With the exception of cravings for non-food items (termed “pica”), pregnancy cravings may not always be a bad thing and, within reason, I’m a proponent of following your body’s lead.
For myself and my clients, putting some context behind why food aversions or cravings might be happening helps you accept the current state of affairs and stay positive.
More on Pregnancy Cravings and Aversions
I recently sat down for an interview with my friend and fellow dietitian, Steph Greunke of the Real Food Mamas podcast (now re-branded to the Doctor Mom Podcast), and we tackled the pregnancy cravings and food aversions topic head-on, including my personal experience with pregnancy cravings and aversions.
Given that prenatal nutrition is the focus of both of our professional careers, we couldn’t resist talking about a number of other topics, including controversial foods, prenatal supplements, salt, and much more.
We split the interview into two, so take your time!
Highlights from Part 1 (Doctor Mom Podcast, Episode 83)
- My story: why I wrote Real Food for Pregnancy and how my pregnancy influenced the book. How I found the time to write this book with 900+ references and a baby-turned-toddler in the house. (Also, see my interview with Startup Pregnant.)
- My experience with nausea and what worked best for me.
- How to navigate food cravings and aversions. Why cravings and aversions may serve an important role.
- The physiologic basis for carbohydrate cravings in the first trimester.
- Controversial foods (conventional “foods to avoid” lists) – Is there strong evidence to warrant avoiding runny yolks and raw fish?
Highlights from Part 2 (Doctor Mom Podcast, Episode 84)
- Prenatal supplements – which to take and why. We talk about the most important ones to prioritize and how to choose a prenatal vitamin.
- The importance of glycine and choline (where to find them in real food + supplements).
- Salt during pregnancy – why pregnant women may need more salt than what’s currently recommended.
- Healthcare providers – How do moms approach mixed messages – what they believe vs. the conventional recommendations from their provider?
If you’ve managed to listen to both Part 1 and Part 2 of my interview on the Real Food Mamas podcast (now re-branded to the Doctor Mom Podcast), I’m seriously impressed. I know these interviews went rather long and into a lot of detail, but hey, this is what I hear people like about my writing/interviews.
If you want to dive even deeper into the research on the topics of pregnancy cravings and food aversions, plus more about managing nausea/vomiting in pregnancy, check out Chapter 7 of my book, Real Food for Pregnancy.
I go into waaaaay more detail than is possible to cover in an interview and cite every source, if you’re curious to read the primary literature yourself.
Check it out here.
Before you go, I’d love to hear your experience with pregnancy cravings and food aversions.
- What foods did you crave? Did you crave different foods at different times of your pregnancy? If you could guess, what did you think triggered your cravings?
- What food aversions did you have? Was it the smell, taste, or something else that bothered you? How long did they last?
Let me know in the comments below.
Until next week,
PS – If you want to learn more about prenatal nutrition, including pregnancy cravings, food aversions, and managing nausea, check out Real Food for Pregnancy. Get a taste of it before you buy. I give away the first chapter for free over at realfoodforpregnancy.com. Making informed lifestyle choices puts you in the driver’s seat of your pregnancy, so you know you’re doing everything within your control to avoid complications and have a healthy baby.