Experiencing cravings? Find out why strange food combinations seem so appealing when you are expecting.
The vast majority of women experience cravings at some point during their pregnancy, so if you've been gripped by the overwhelming desire to eat pickles at 3 in the morning rest assured your not alone!
While it's a common belief that pregnancy leads you to crave some of the most bizarre food combinations imaginable, it may come as a surprise to learn that the most popular 'craved' foods seem to be on the tamer end of the scale, with fresh fruit, dairy products and anything salty or spicy cited as the pregnancy 'must haves' for many.
Pregnancy cravings are certainly strange, you can be carrying on with your day as normal when you're suddenly overcome by a powerful urge to gorge on something you may not have even liked before you fell pregnant. There are many theories as to why food (and indeed non-food) cravings are experienced during pregnancy, here are just a few......
One school of thought believes that pregnancy cravings are an evolutionary mechanism, in place to ensure that an expectant mother consumes enough of the right nutrients and calories to sustain her growing baby at a time when she may not feel like eating at all what with morning sickness, indigestion, fatigue and heartburn. This theory has been supported by research which suggests that taste preferences change throughout pregnancy.
During the first trimester, many develop a strong aversion to bitter foods which, from an evolutionary perspective, can be interpreted as being the body's way of telling you to avoid substances such as poisonous berries or alcohol which typically have a bitter quality and which may be harmful to your baby. As pregnancy progresses sour tastes become more favourable, possibly with the purpose of increasing the range of foods and nutrients that an expectant mother consumes. The taste for salty foods also increases, which is potentially why many pregnant women develop a taste for pickles during the final months. This salty preference could possibly be due to the body's need for increased levels of sodium as blood and body mass increases.
Many believe that pregnancy cravings are a result of a nutritional deficiency. Again this theory makes logical sense, especially when you consider that many craved foods such as fruit and dairy do provide the body with nourishing vitamins and calcium. Some even speculate that a B vitamin deficiency is linked to chocolate cravings.
While this theory does sound likely on paper (especially as any theory which implies that you can eat chocolate and ice cream for the health of your baby must be right -right?) unfortunately there has been little research that has successfully linked nutritional deficiencies with specific cravings. However, many still strongly advocate this approach in determining what your body needs to nourish your baby whilst you are pregnant.
Some attribute pregnancy cravings to the huge hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. This theory has some support in that similar cravings are experienced premenstrually and during the menopause when certain 'pregnancy' hormones are also elevated.
However, seemingly hormonal related cravings do tend to be for sweet substances and rarely for the sour, salty of spicy foods that many pregnant women crave. Additionally, if cravings could be explained on a purely hormonal basis then why don't all pregnant women experience the same cravings at the same stages of their pregnancy. This is a question that can't be answered by hormones alone.
Instead of a biological or physical mechanism, cravings may be due to a psychological response to pregnancy. Whether they are the result of a mechanism that causes pregnant women to experience cravings because they expect to, because its seen as socially acceptable to 'eat for two' and indulge in foods that they may not have felt free to before, or by using food subconsciously as an emotional support through a period of such great change, the reasons are unknown.
The likelihood is that pregnancy cravings are a combination of all of the above theories and mechanisms. However, regardless f the cause, most cravings are relatively harmless when indulged in moderation. As long as you are enjoying a balanced diet that provides you and your baby with all the nutrients you need, giving into temptation now and again won't do you any harm.
The one exception to this is when you are craving non-food substances as you may have a condition known as Pica. It is important to visit your doctor if you develop an urge to eat or even chew non-food substances as indulging this craving could be hazardous to the health of you and your baby.
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