Food Frenzy: Unlocking the Mystery of Pregnancy Cravings

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Discover when to give in to those hankerings, explore healthier alternatives, and learn what cravings to avoid for a safe pregnancy journey.

Why do pregnant women get food cravings often? And should we give in to everything? Here’s what mums-to-be need to know about pregnancy cravings.

Pregnancy Cravings

Hankering for cheese toasties? Discovered a newfound love for red velvet cake? Or maybe you just want guava on everything! During pregnancy, many women experience food cravings for specific foods, usually sweet than savoury. These pregnancy cravings may have an underlying meaning to them beyond quirky changes in taste!

According to Medical News Today, pregnancy cravings might happen because of an imbalance between serotonin and leptin, hormones responsible for reward and happiness. 

Although scientists still haven’t found out the exact mechanics behind food cravings, nutritionists widely believe they indicate what our bodies are lacking.

Let’s say you’re craving for some chips in the middle of the night. This might mean you need more energy or calories.

Or if you really want to eat deep-fried chicken, your body might not have enough essential fatty acids.

While this makes sense in a general context, there’s a lot going on while you’re pregnant. The cravings may have slightly different implications.

What do early pregnancy cravings feel like?

Early pregnancy cravings can vary from person to person. Some describe them as sudden and intense urges to eat specific foods they might not have been interested in before. These cravings can also be quite specific, like craving pickles with ice cream or other unusual combinations.

In some cases, the smell or thought of certain foods may make you feel nauseous, while other foods become more appealing. It’s essential to listen to your body’s signals and try to maintain a balanced diet while indulging occasionally in your cravings.

The Meaning Behind Your Pregnancy Craving

pregnant woman with a lot of food

Image Source: iStock

Food cravings during pregnancy are really common. Studies reported that 84 per cent of women worldwide claimed to experience some sort of pregnancy craving. But is it any different from normal?

When it comes to explaining why pregnancy cravings happen, there are two schools of thought.

The first is similar to the above; the body suffers from a dietary deficiency and is trying to tell you what it needs.

If you’re suddenly craving salty foods like French fries, this might mean you have low sodium levels in your blood. Find yourself reaching for a tub of ice cream? You may have low blood sugar.

As logical and functional as this sounds, Professor Judith Brown of the University of Minnesota hasn’t found any concrete evidence linking a pregnancy craving to nutritional requirements.

Weird Pregnancy Cravings

But how do you explain the weird cravings you get, like a sudden desire to eat wax or a handful of soil?

This phenomenon of wanting to eat non-foods is known as pica. It’s generally believed to be related to an iron deficiency.

For less extreme cravings, nutritionists have suggested hormonal fluctuations that cause changes in smell and taste.

According to studies, high hormone levels present during pregnancy can alter both a woman’s sense of taste and smell. So certain foods and their odours may seem more enticing. This might explain weird combinations you suddenly want, like ice cream with pickles. Or you might even be in the mood for coffee when you normally don’t drink coffee!

Meanwhile, just the smell of some food is enough to make a pregnant woman throw up –  this causes food aversion in pregnancy. 

When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?

How early in pregnancy do you get cravings?

If you’re wondering when these culinary cravings kick in, well, let us enlighten you. Generally, pregnancy cravings start making their grand entrance during the first trimester, which is around the 4th to 6th week after conception, but they can vary from woman to woman.

Some lucky ones might experience cravings early on, while others might not feel the intense desire for pickles and ice cream until later stages.

It’s like a mysterious gastronomic adventure that unfolds uniquely for each mum-to-be. So, buckle up and get ready for a rollercoaster ride of taste bud surprises throughout those glorious nine months!

Does Your Pregnancy Craving Tell You About Your Baby’s Gender?

Type “pregnancy craving” on your web browser and you’ll most likely come across an article about “food cravings when pregnant with a boy,” or “food cravings when pregnant with a girl.” 

Some seasoned parents say that pregnancy cravings also have something to do with their child’s gender. Craving for something sweet means you’re having a girl, while if you like salty food, you probably are getting a son.

However, just like the height of a pregnant woman’s stomach has nothing to do with the sex of the baby, the belief that the food you crave can give you an idea if you’re having a boy or a girl is merely a myth. 

As mentioned earlier, your pregnancy craving can give you a sign of what nutrients your body needs, but it does not, in any way, predict gender. The only surefire way to find out your baby’s gender is through an ultrasound.

What Happens If You Ignore These Pregnancy Cravings

Is it bad to ignore pregnancy cravings?

Ignoring pregnancy cravings isn’t inherently bad, as long as it’s done in moderation and with an overall healthy diet in mind. Ignoring those cravings won’t cause any harm to you or your baby.

Pregnancy cravings are more of a desire than a necessity. However, it’s important to note that cravings can sometimes be a signal from your body, indicating a need for specific nutrients, but that doesn’t mean you have to indulge in unhealthy or excessive amounts of specific foods.

So, it’s a good idea to listen to your cravings but remember that many cravings can be satisfied with more nutritious alternatives. Moderation is key, and maintaining a balanced diet throughout your pregnancy is crucial for your overall health and well-being.

What You Can Do About Your Pregnancy Cravings

While the jury is still out on why food cravings happen or are as strong as they are, take heart! There are steps you can take to minimise the impact of these impulses.

The best way to overcome food cravings is to stay ahead of the curve! 

1. Eat a balanced diet.

food craving while pregnant

Image source: iStock

You have been told you’re eating for two, but this does not mean you have to overeat. It’s important you’re not just eating enough, but eating the right stuff.

Having a balanced diet means getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Don’t forget about getting enough nutrients and vitamins to promote healthy growth for your little one!

2. Remember to eat at regular intervals.

Mum-to-be, your body is undergoing a lot of physical change. All the aches, pains, and constant feelings of wanting to puke can make you feel like you don’t have an appetite.

To limit food cravings, eat at regular intervals instead of waiting for hunger pangs as your cue. You can split your meal times up so you eat up to six small meals each day.

3. Keep healthy snacks on hand.

If you’re used to snacking, swap out junk food with healthier alternatives. Stock up on fruits and nuts so you can grab them nearby when you’re feeling peckish.

Also, remember to stop buying unhealthy food! If it’s not at home, you can’t be tempted to eat it!

4. Stay active.

Doing exercise is a great way to starve off hunger pangs. It helps to control your hormone levels while providing a healthy distraction!

It might feel uncomfortable, but you can still exercise safely! Try swimming to keep your fitness levels up.

Food Frenzy: Unlocking the Mystery of Pregnancy Cravings

Image Source: iStock

5. Pay attention to these cravings.

Rather than fight against every pregnancy craving, you can still treat yourself with healthy alternatives. If you feel the need for ice cream, choose low-fat yoghurt instead. It still satisfies the sweet tooth and gives your body the sugar it’s yearning for.

Nutritionists worldwide think food cravings might be your body’s way of telling you it needs more of certain nutrients. It can feel a bit disorienting at first but take steps to stay ahead, mummy-to-be, and you’ll be just fine!

Some women feel deprived and depressed when they aren’t allowed to eat certain foods, so as long as it will not harm your baby, go ahead, mum. Give in to your pregnancy craving from time to time. Just make sure to take everything in moderation and fill yourself up with nutritious foods. 

If you are craving food that is deemed unsafe for pregnant women such as sushi, soda or canned food, it wouldn’t hurt to ask your doctor about it. 

Healthier Alternative to Your Pregnancy Cravings

Pregnancy cravings can be powerful, but that doesn’t mean you have to give in to unhealthy options. By choosing healthier alternatives, you can indulge your cravings while nourishing yourself and your growing baby. Here are some delightful alternatives to common pregnancy cravings that are both satisfying and beneficial for your well-being.

  • Swap ice cream for frozen yoghurt
  • Try veggie chips instead of potato chips
  • Opt for fresh fruit instead of candies
  • Choose whole grain crackers instead of processed snack crackers
  • Quench your thirst with infused water instead of sugary drinks
  • Go for homemade smoothies instead of milkshakes
  • Enjoy dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
  • Indulge in homemade baked goods instead of store-bought pastries
  • Savour nut butter on whole wheat toast instead of sugary spreads
  • Nibble on dried fruits instead of high-sugar snacks
  • Try Greek yoghurt with honey instead of rich desserts
  • Snack on air-popped popcorn instead of buttered popcorn
  • Enjoy baked sweet potato fries instead of French fries
  • Sip herbal tea instead of caffeinated beverages
  • Delight in avocado toast instead of greasy fast food

Healthier Options for Common Pregnancy Cravings in Singapore

  • Durian – Fresh fruits like mangoes or strawberries
  • Chicken Rice – Grilled chicken breast with steamed rice and vegetables
  • Ice Kacang – Fresh fruit salad with shaved ice and a drizzle of honey
  • Laksa – Vegetable-based curry soup with tofu and rice noodles
  • Teh Tarik – Unsweetened tea or herbal infusions
  • Roti Prata – Whole wheat or multigrain bread with a side of vegetable curry
  • Nasi Lemak – Brown rice with grilled or steamed fish, accompanied by cucumber and sambal sauce
  • Chilli Crab – Steamed or grilled crab with a spicy tomato-based sauce and whole wheat noodles
  • Char Kway Teow – Stir-fried rice noodles with plenty of vegetables and lean protein like tofu or shrimp
  • Mango Sticky Rice – Coconut milk-infused chia pudding with fresh mango slices

Remember, moderation and portion control are essential when indulging in these alternatives. 

Pregnancy Cravings to Avoid at All Costs

Pregnancy cravings can be intense, but it’s important to be mindful of certain cravings that may not be ideal for your health or the health of your baby. While occasional indulgences are okay, it’s best to steer clear of certain foods that may pose risks during pregnancy. Here is a list of pregnancy cravings to avoid for a safe and healthy journey.

  1. Raw or undercooked seafood
  2. Unpasteurised dairy products
  3. Deli meats and processed meats
  4. High-mercury fish
  5. Raw or partially cooked eggs
  6. Excessive caffeine
  7. Unwashed fruits and vegetables
  8. Unpasteurised juices or cider
  9. Alcohol
  10. Artificial sweeteners and excessively sugary foods

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider for personalised advice regarding your specific dietary needs during pregnancy.

Beat food cravings by planning ahead. To know which foods are safe and not safe to eat while pregnant, check out our Food & Nutrition tool on our theAsianparent app, which you can download for free.

pregnant woman eating ice cream

Image Source: iStock

Updates by Camille Eusebio

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