Pregnancies for me have been a tough time. With heightened morning sickness my appetite had reduced a lot and I had started to hate the smell of most foods. But on the other hand there were certain foods that I craved a lot. It was bizarre because not only did I have food cravings but they were so specific that I would sometimes crave the food from a particular place- like the crispy dosa at Sangeetha Hotel or the molaga bajjis sold at the beach. And these food cravings would be strong and last for days and would not subside unless I satiated them.
Never have I had such strong food cravings otherwise, the way it manifests during pregnancy. Which got me thinking, is it hormones that cause these or are they triggered by food deficiencies? Many of us also crave chocolates when we are on our periods. I did a bit of reading up and here is what I learnt.
This is what a study says
Cravings for savory substances appear to be strongest during the first trimester, with a tapering of urges during the later stages of peripartum. In a large number of women, a preference for sweet foods reaches peak intensity during the second trimester. Urges for salty substances tend to emerge later on in pregnancy, with a preference for and intake of salty foods increasing in the later stages of gestation.
Also we find we are reaching more than often for that jar of pickles or seeking out that Pani Puri wale bhaiya for our quest for some tangy taste. This is due to the altered sense of taste and smell. Hormones may also be responsible for prenatal craving in indirect ways. Pregnancy is known to significantly alter sensory perception, possibly due to changes in secretion of hormones. We have all experienced craving before or during our periods due to the rise of hormones.
So pregnancy is just a heightened condition of hormonal surges, sure to amplify that craving! Morning sickness may make you crave more of such tangy taste because it neutralizes your taste buds, killing the vomiting sensation. Along with the sense of smell even the sense of taste gets heightened during pregnancy. Taste of foods may be heightened during this time because of the change in the sensory levels.
“It is known that fetal demands can double requirements for certain nutrients, and proper nutrition during pregnancy is critical in ensuring healthy fetal development”, says Alifia Bhol, a nutritionist and dietitian. “For example, a lack of adequate intake of iron can result in iron deficiency anemia and inadequate placental and fetal growth”.
“Though some findings do not support a nutritional deficit hypothesis for food cravings in pregnancy, many nutritionists believe that craving a certain food maybe because of its nutrient in the first place. For example, calcium deficiency might be the reason you crave that tub of ice cream!”
Food cravings may not necessarily be due to a need for a general increase in caloric intake since they tend to emerge in the first half of gestation, long before a majority of fetal growth (and thus fetal demand for nutrients) takes place. Most of us crave comfort foods during this time. We may find ourselves reaching more for foods rich in carbohydrates and fats because they cause fullness and satiate the appetite faster ending in dopamine release.
Similarly we may crave foods that have an emotional connection to it, like something you liked in your childhood which is associated with your happy memory. This may also have a cultural factor attached to it depending on the region you grew up in and the common foods available there.
However, along with the cravings the nutritional aspect of foods should be kept in mind too to make sure that you are receiving a balance of all the nutrients required from your diet for the baby’s growth and your overall well being.
What is not healthy?
Foods that have Ajinomoto, undercooked foods like sushi, undercooked meat, and eggs, raw vegetables which are not hygienically washed and cut are things that should be largely avoided.
“Additionally, foods that are high in sodium content should be avoided especially for those suffering from high blood pressure. Stay away from foods that are ‘refined’ especially oils and flours. Sugar can be taken in moderation but those suffering from gestational diabetes may need to watch that as well”, adds Alifia. “Just remember the 3 whites- salt, sugar and maida. These can cause bloating, water retention, and digestive issues too. Plus anyone with thyroid issues can put on more weight and too much weight gain is also unhealthy in pregnancy and difficult to shed later”.
Pregnancy food cravings are normal as long as you don’t crave for unhealthy, non-food, or toxic stuff like chalk, paint, sand, etc. If you find yourself craving for things like these it is best to seek help or inform your doctor because this may be a sign of a condition called pica, a condition characterized by persistent eating of non-nutritive substances which are inappropriate or not part of a culturally supported or socially normative practice.
And thank God we don’t have to name our kids after our pregnancy food cravings. Imagine having Dosa and Bajji running around at home!