Pregnancy Cravings: What they mean and how to approach them healthily

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One of the most common questions I get from my pregnant mamas and in my Instagram DMs is “how to curb pregnancy cravings”. And while it can sound simple to just do away with cravings, it’s important to take a look at what our cravings are actually telling us. Yes, a chocolate craving may just mean you really want some chocolate, but it can also mean you’re missing some key nutrients, vitamins and minerals in your diet.

Taking a deeper look at what cravings mean for pregnant women especially, and then figuring out how to deal in a mindful and effective way is really important for overall health of not only you but your baby as well.

I’ve laid out the 6 most common pregnancy cravings and how to deal with each as well as some action steps for what to do when a craving hits.

Chocolate -
Craving chocolate is a very common craving, pregnant or not. If you’re experiencing a chocolate craving, your body is likely looking for an increase in the “feel good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine that are found in dark chocolate. Your body is also under a lot of stress during pregnancy which can be supported and reduced by magnesium and theobromine (both found in chocolate).

How to deal -
If you’re craving chocolate, by all means, indulge. Just do it mindfully. Choose high-quality dark chocolate (70% or higher) and eat it in smaller amounts. In addition, add foods high in magnesium to your diet like spinach, avocado, almonds, and tofu.

Ice -
Ice cravings can be a form of pica which is linked low iron levels. Some research shows that it’s because chewing ice temporarily increases blood flow to the brain which counteracts the slowdown caused by an iron deficiency. You should be able to have a blood test performed by your physician to check your iron levels.

How to deal -
If iron levels are low, you can consider taking an iron supplement as well as increasing the amount of iron in your diet. Foods high in iron include leafy greens, cashews, beans and lentils, broccoli, dark chocolate.

Sweets -
Often craving sweets is a result of not getting enough sleep at night. While you’re pregnant or with a newborn, sleep is a precious commodity and can be tough to get. But research shows that people who get less sleep (even just an hour less) end up eating an average of 550 more calories the next day from sugary sources.

How to deal -
If you truly can’t get to sleep an hour earlier do everything you can to make you sleep more restful. Get an eye mask, ear plugs, remove all sources of light from the bedroom, consider a white noise machine, wake up to a light alarm clock. These will dramatically help support your sleep.

Cheese -
Cheese contains a compound that helps promote relaxation in the body. Your craving for cheesy food may mean that you need some ‘me time’ to de-stress. You may also be having cognitive problems if you’re craving cheese all the time.

How to deal -
Indulge in a little cheese - it’s okay. As with chocolate, make sure it’s a small amount and a high quality source. And one you actually LOVE. If you love feta, get some really delicious feta. If you hate mozzarella, you probably don’t want pizza. Other feel-good ways to up that relaxation level without food include yoga, meditation, a warm bath, a walk in nature, and a prenatal massage.

Soda -
I personally craved soda during all of my pregnancies. And while you may attribute it to needing your caffeine fix, it may also be a sign that you have a calcium deficiency. The phosophoric acid in bubbly rinks can leach calcium and magnesium from your bones which leads to this cycle of depletion and craving.

How to deal -
Consider switching to a carbonated water instead of soda and increase foods rich in calcium. In addition to the animal sources like yogurt, meat, milk, you can find high calcium foods like seeds, beans and lentils, almonds and some leafy greens.

Potato chips and french fries -
Again, I craved french fries during all of my pregnancies. I was a frequent drive-thru patron. Craving these junk foods can mean that you’re not getting enough healthy fats in to your diet. Especially omega-3s.

How to deal -
Up your intake of foods high in good fats and omega-3s like walnuts, chia, brussels sprouts, eggs, avocado, sardines, spinach, dark chocolate, and cheese.

You’ll notice that dark chocolate and spinach (or dark leafy greens) come up as solutions to nearly every common pregnancy craving on this list. While I wouldn’t suggest eating just that to curb your cravings, it is a good idea to add them both in to your diet regularly.

Action plan for cravings -

When a craving hits - PAUSE - before you do anything. Drink a glass of water (it may just be that you’re a little dehydrated and the craving passes once you up that H2O level) and leave the kitchen. Take a little walk around the house or around the block or do a small chore (switch the laundry, empty the dishwasher, straighten up some toys). If you’re still craving the food, consider a small piece of dark chocolate. If it’s close to a meal time and you’re actually feeling hungry, make yourself a meal with a handful or 2 of dark leafy greens.

If you’re STILL craving something salty or cheesy or whatever after you’ve done all of the above, then by all means, have the thing! Just do it in a small amount of high quality food. Studies have shown that allowing yourself to indulge in your cravings mindfully, actually make you crave them less in the long run.