During the first trimester, most pregnant women experience at least one food aversion, or a new sense of repulsion at the very thought of a food they previously enjoyed. It is also common to experience sudden urges and cravings for particular foods. Food aversions and cravings typically differ from pregnancy to pregnancy. They may also change from day to day. Occasionally a pregnancy can change food preferences permanently.
It is possible to have food cravings and still provide the baby with the nutrients he or she needs to grow. However, giving in too often to high-calorie foods cravings may lead to excessive weight gain which increases the risk of gestational diabetes and unhealthy blood pressure levels.
What causes food aversions and cravings during pregnancy?
- In Early pregnancy, pregnancy hormones can intensify the sense of smell which influences taste and this is powerful enough to affect your food choices and preferences.
- Some experts think that food aversions and cravings are protective, even if there is no scientific data to back up that theory. This theory states that pregnant women crave what their body needs and are repulsed by what is not good for them. This theory works with items such as coffee and alcohol. But it does not explain why other pregnant women are suddenly repulsed by healthy foods they used to love.
- Another theory states that humans have moved so far from the original food chain that the body can no longer reliably interpret its own internal signals.
- Some women crave non-food items, including ice, dirt, clay, paper, and ashes. This craving, known as pica, may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, particularly of iron. Expectant mothers may also get the urge to eat flour or corn-starch, which, despite being food items, can lead to blocked bowels and crowd out the nutrients the baby needs. If you have any of these urges, you should talk to your doctor about it.
How to cope with food aversions and cravings?
Coping with aversions:
- If food aversions are limiting your food intake, then you should be looking for substitutes for the healthy foods you are inclined to avoid.
- If necessary consult your doctor about the drug options available to relieve common early pregnancy symptoms related to nausea.
Coping with cravings:
- Eat a balanced diet including lean sources of protein, reduced-fat dairy foods, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans to guarantee that you and your baby are getting the nutrition you both need.
- Eat frequent small meals to avoid drops in blood sugar that could trigger food cravings (six small meals instead of three large ones).
- Avoid giving into food cravings that are nutritionally empty as much as possible.
- Try to distract yourself from an unwanted craving by going for a walk, reading a book, or whatever you find works for you.
- Give in to cravings once in a while then eat healthy for the rest of the day.
You should avoid all kinds of food that are considered health risks for pregnant women and developing babies. These include: raw and undercooked meat, shellfish, certain seafood (that with higher levels of mercury such as sward fish or marlin), undercooked egg, un-pasteurized milk and cheeses, unpasteurized juice, raw vegetable sprouts, certain herbal teas and alcohol. Your health care professionals can advise you further.