From pickled gherkins to peanut butter, almost every woman experiences food cravings during pregnancy. While a lot of cravings can seem totally random (we're looking at you vanilla ice cream on toast), some people believe pregnancy food cravings can mean your body is in need of certain nutrients.
It's a topic of debate for many in the medical industry, with some doctors firmly of the belief that cravings mean nothing at all, while others claim cravings have a scientific reason behind them. With that in mind, we spoke to two different experts to find out more about what pregnancy food cravings really mean.
"Food cravings are common in early pregnancy but peak in the second trimester," explains Dr Deborah Lee at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. According to Dr Lee, pregnancy food cravings "are known to be associated with mood," and likens this to what we experience normally. "Just as in non-pregnant women, pregnant women often crave certain foods when they experience negative emotions," she adds.
Dr Lee continues: "Women often believe the origin of their food cravings are down to the physiological changes of pregnancy, and that satisfying the craving may be beneficial in some way for the developing fetus."
On the other side of things, Dr Belinda Griffiths from The Fleet Street Clinic, points out that some scientific research indicates that pregnancy food cravings "have little if any bearing on the mother’s nutritional needs."
Despite this, she explains "there does appear to be a hormonal link" as to why women crave specific tastes, textures or flavour combinations. "Cravings are not necessarily about being hungry or lacking in a certain nutrient, but about wanting specific food or drinks that are often very difficult to resist. Cravings tend to favour unhealthy food choices and 'comfort foods'," she adds.
Take chocolate for example, which many women crave during pregnancy, as well as their menstrual cycle and menopause. "There has not been found to be a nutritional connection between cravings and hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy, PMS or menopause," she says, "chocolate is most commonly craved, but has no nutritional benefit for any of these scenarios."
Regardless of whether pregnancy food cravings actually mean anything, both Dr Lee and Dr Griffiths stress the importance of maintaining a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy. "Women who report cravings tend to gain more weight during pregnancy than is considered healthy," says Dr Griffiths, "which can lead to a higher rate of adverse health outcomes in both mothers and babies."
As the NHS points out, weight gain during pregnancy is totally normal and "most pregnant women gain between 10kg and 12.5kg, putting on most of the weight after week 20." So, what is the extra weight needed for? "Much of the extra weight is due to your baby growing," the NHS says, "but your body will also be storing fat, ready to make breast milk after your baby is born."
Much like Dr Lee and Dr Griffiths, the NHS advises that "Putting on too much or too little weight while you're pregnant can lead to health problems for you or your unborn baby." But, the NHS says as long as you're making healthy food choices and keeping active during your pregnancy, there's not much to worry about in terms of weight gain.
To help satisfy your cravings, and stay fit at the same time, Dr Lee explains that if you're having cravings, it's best to eat healthily and avoid processed foods, but also to be mindful while you're eating. "Don’t distract yourself when eating," she says, "Eat slowly, chew your food and enjoy every mouthful."
"Plan a treat, if you need one," Dr Lee adds, "But think carefully. It is still important to control your portion size and your daily calorie intake – pregnant or not."
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