Common Pregnancy Cravings and the Science Behind Them

We all know the trope about the pregnant woman who sends her husband out at midnight for ice cream and pickles. After all, pregnancy cravings can’t be denied! But these cravings are far from a silly joke. There’s a reason behind many of your pregnancy food cravings and why, when you’re pregnant, you might yearn for foods you usually avoid. Many pregnant women experience food cravings, and they’re usually perfectly normal. Most food cravings are safe to indulge in moderation, as long as you’re following your doctor’s advice on health and caloric intake. So what are some common pregnancy cravings, and why on earth do they pop up while we’re expecting?

The saltier, the better, according to your cravings. During pregnancy, your body’s blood volume increases, so salt cravings could be linked to your body’s demand for higher sodium levels. As your baby grows, your body is demanding much more than usual, which is why the sudden craving for salty potato chips and pretzels can feel so extreme. Try and get that salt craving in healthy ways, like adding a dash of extra salt on a vegetable dish, instead of seeking out processed snacks with high sodium levels.

You can’t help but spice up your meals when you’re pregnant. Craving spicy foods is common for pregnant women, even for those who usually avoid them. Our taste preferences change during pregnancy, which is why you might find yourself upping the potency on your meals. Another reason you may be craving spice, especially if you love the flavors anyway, is to keep your stabilize your fluctuating body temperature: when you eat hot foods, you sweat, which in turn cools down your body.  

Fruit can be a binge-worthy treat during pregnancy, too. While the jury is still out on whether or not food cravings indicate a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, craving fruit can certainly help you reach your goal for micronutrients. Fruit cravings could be for very specific vitamins, like beta-carotene, vitamin-C, or potassium, and as far as pregnancy cravings go, this is one you can probably allow.  

Red meat is a top pregnancy craving. Even vegetarian women have reported serious red meat cravings while pregnant, which can indicate that this craving is your body asking for protein or iron. Red meat offers a heavy dose of both, so your desire for a big cheeseburger might have merit. Of course, if you’d rather not eat read meat, this can be a troubling impulse. Try eggs, milk, or quinoa and see if that red meat itch is scratched. It might have been your body asking very nicely for extra protein.

Ice cream and dairy make expectant mothers’ mouths water. Like pickles, ice cream is the most cliche of pregnancy food cravings. It’s also one of the most widely reported. Other dairy foods like cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk (or milkshakes!) are common cravings, too, and could derive from an increased need for calories while pregnant, or to give you and your growing baby an extra wallop of calcium.  

Pucker up for a sour serving of lemon. Squeezing the juice of an entire lemon into a glass of water isn’t unheard of during pregnancy. It could be that you’re craving lemon, but it’s more likely your body is screaming for uber-sour foods. Your taste buds change with pregnancy (just another of the many, many changes you go through while expecting), so when you crave lemons, rhubarb, grapefruit, or other sour foods, it may be that you’re really seeking a shock to your taste buds.

Sugary sweets can be an occasional pregnancy treat. Cravings for sugar-laden desserts, candies, and pastries are well-documented amongst expectant mothers. This is a tricky craving, because it’s possible (and very easy, sometimes) to over-do it on the sugar. This sudden interest in everything sweet could be because of the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, which can affect your scent and taste perception.

You may feel the urge to load your plate with leafy greens. Like other food cravings, the sudden appetite for leafy green vegetables can be related to your changing taste buds or to your body’s need for a wallop of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens are nutrient-dense and important to include in your pregnancy diet, regardless of cravings. These veggies tend to taste more bitter, so if you find other taste changing during pregnancy, it might be that a kale-craving is actually to sate a hunger for bitter foods.

Nothing sounds as soothing than those special comfort foods from your childhood. A common pregnancy craving is for a specific brand of food or a meal prepared in a particular way: foods from childhood, which you may have forgotten all about, are new obsessions when you’re pregnant. It makes sense that your unconscious brain is thinking fondly about your childhood when you’re expecting, and food cravings are another way to reminisce. Whether it’s the snack cakes your mom packed in your lunchbox, or your dad’s macaroni and cheese, or a loaf of bread from your hometown bakery, psychological cravings can pack a strong punch. These are the foods that remind you of simpler, calmer times.

Pickles aren’t a cliche, they’re an actual pregnancy craving. It seems like pickles are the whole package if you’re craving salt and if your taste buds are calling for bolder flavors, like the vinegar blast that pickles pack. Many women also say that they like the crunch of pickles. Who knew pickles were so versatile in their ability to satisfy pregnancy cravings?

Craving nonedible food is less common, but important to watch out for. Not all pregnancy cravings are for edible foodstuffs. If you’re craving chalk, clay, dirt, or other non-food items, you might have a condition called Pica, and you should see your doctor about it. It’s thought that Pica is tied to an iron deficiency, which is a fairly common issue during pregnancy. Giving into Pica cravings can actually be dangerous for you and your growing baby, so be sure to bring it up at your next appointment.