Have you discovered a sudden desire for pickles and a pint of ice cream during your pregnancy, even though these foods have never been your go-tos before? If so, you are not alone. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of pregnancy cravings!
But what exactly is a food craving? If you’re experiencing a strong urge to eat a specific type of food and finding it very hard to resist that desire, you’re probably experiencing a craving. But we don’t just get cravings during pregnancy. In fact, studies show that 68% to 97% of college-aged men and women reported experiencing food cravings.
So why do we experience cravings during pregnancy, and what are some of the most common pregnancy food cravings? Here, we break down the research and speak to registered dietician Marcela Fiuza to uncover everything you need to know about pregnancy cravings, including a pregnancy cravings list of the most commonly craved foods.
If you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, or you’re expecting but haven’t experienced any specific hankerings yet, you might be wondering if pregnancy cravings are likely to kick in.
“Cravings can occur at any point during pregnancy,” explains Fiuza. “Typically, they tend to start at the end of the first trimester and intensify during the second trimester.” For some women, pregnancy food cravings could start as early as five weeks into pregnancy.
If you’re experiencing pregnancy food cravings, then you’re now part of a very large club, as pregnancy cravings are extremely common. In fact, Fiuza says that anywhere between 50% to 90% of pregnant people in the United States will experience them.
Good question! Unfortunately, researchers haven’t determined an answer for this just yet. “There is not much research into the causes of food cravings during pregnancy, so we don’t fully understand why they happen,” explains Fiuza.
There are a number of theories about what causes pregnancy cravings, but Fiuza adds that these are “unproved,” so we can’t take them as fact just yet. One theory is that the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy could have an impact on our sense of smell and taste, which “could be linked with food preferences and cravings,” says Fiuza.
“Another theory is that increased nutrient requirement or nutritional deficiencies could lead to craving of certain foods,” she adds. “However, research is lacking, and available findings do not support these hypotheses.”
While cravings during pregnancy are totally normal, Fiuza reminds us that they “should not be the sole indicator of nutritional needs in pregnancy.”
As you reach for the jar of pickles for the third time in a day, you might be wondering which foods are most common for pregnancy cravings. There is limited research available to help pinpoint these, although one study that analyzed blog posts about pregnancy cravings found that sweets, carbohydrates (including chips and pizza), animal proteins, and fruits were often reported as cravings. Other studies suggest that pregnancy cravings for savory foods are strongest in the first trimester, while cravings for sweet foods are strongest in the second trimester, and cravings for salty foods are strongest in later pregnancy.
Fiuza has used the data available, combined with her own clinical experience, to highlight the following nine food groups as some of the most common pregnancy cravings.
You don’t need to be pregnant to find yourself craving chocolate. Research has shown that it’s actually the most common food craving in the United States for all individuals, whether they’re expecting or not. But if you’re really craving sweets during your pregnancy, it could be due to pregnancy food cravings, with Fiuza naming chocolate and candy as two of the most commonly craved sweet foods.
While it’s OK to indulge your sweet cravings during pregnancy, it’s recommended that you don’t reach for sweets too often and that you only do so as part of a healthy diet. Research has found a link between increased intake of sugary foods and a risk of gestational diabetes, and excessive weight gain during pregnancy can be problematic.
If you’re worried about your cravings for sweet foods, you could try swapping candy and other sweet treats for fruit or substituting a few squares of milk chocolate for dark chocolate instead, as it’s considered a healthier alternative and contains heart-healthy flavonoids.
If you have fruit cravings during pregnancy, then that’s great, as this is a delicious and healthy snack to enjoy throughout your pregnancy and beyond. If you’re craving fruit, you could try making a delicious fruit smoothie or grab an orange to satisfy your cravings. Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) general guidelines recommend that pregnant people over 19 consume 85 mg of vitamin C per day, or 80 mg per day if you’re younger than 19.
Pregnancy cravings for carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, and crackers are also common. If you find yourself craving these, Fiuza recommends opting for healthier, whole grain varieties that contain more nutrients, like fiber and vitamins, instead of processed varieties that may have added sugar, fats, and salt. As an added bonus, fiber can help to keep you full while also working to fight constipation, which is particularly common in the second trimester.
Does a gooey slice of pizza or a plate of salty, crispy chips sound particularly delicious right now? This could be due to pregnancy cravings, with both the aforementioned blog post study and Fiuza naming pizza and chips as two of the most commonly craved junk foods during pregnancy. As with sweets, it’s OK to indulge these cravings occasionally, but try to eat them as part of a healthy, balanced diet. You could also opt for a healthier alternative such as homemade sweet potato fries or go for a slice of pizza loaded with fiber and vitamin-rich vegetables.
Dairy cravings during pregnancy, such as a craving for milk, are also common. The good news is that this is generally a healthy craving, too. This is because dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese all contain calcium, a mineral that helps the fetus to develop healthy bones and teeth and helps to keep your own bones and teeth healthy and strong. ACOG’s general guidelines recommend that pregnant women aged 19 and older consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day or 1,300 mg per day for those aged 18 and under.
Just be sure to opt for dairy made with pasteurized milk and avoid any cheeses or foods that have been made with unpasteurized milk. These products may contain Listeria bacteria, which could lead to a potentially harmful infection. For more specific information on dairy products that you can and shouldn’t eat during pregnancy, you can read this article on planning a healthy pregnancy diet.
If all you can think about is ordering the spiciest takeout you can find, then yes, you guessed it; you could be experiencing a pregnancy food craving. Spicy cravings in pregnancy are also normal, so if you suddenly find yourself wanting to order a spicy curry when previously your go-to was something milder, then don’t worry. It’s fine to indulge this craving, although you might want to steer clear of spicy foods if you’re experiencing heartburn or stomach issues (which are common during pregnancy), as there is evidence to suggest that they can aggravate these.
Pickles are a classic pregnancy food craving, and again, it’s generally OK to indulge it. It is absolutely fine to satisfy your pickle craving, but be mindful of quantities, as too much salt can worsen water retention in pregnancy and increase the risk of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, which may have negative health effects for your baby.
Fiuza says pregnancy cravings for animal protein, such as steak and chicken, are also normal, but they could be a sign that you are experiencing iron deficiency anemia, as these foods are rich in iron. Anemia is common during pregnancy, affecting between 20% and 80% of pregnant women. That’s often because iron needs increase during pregnancy, from 18 mg per day to 27 mg per day. If you suspect you may have anemia, speak with your health care provider about figuring out a solution.
Do you have a sudden desire to eat cold and chilled foods? Pregnancy cravings for foods such as ice cream and popsicles are also normal, says Fiuza. As with sweets, it’s fine to indulge this craving, but try to do so as part of a healthy, balanced diet. You could also try an alternative option, such as frozen yogurt or a homemade fruit smoothie.
There is no evidence to suggest that ignoring pregnancy cravings could harm you or your baby, as long as you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet. However, if you’re concerned, it’s best to speak with your health care provider. In some cases, such as with sweets and fast food, it is generally best to indulge your cravings in moderation. When it comes to nutrition during pregnancy, following a healthy diet is key. “As long as you are having a balanced diet most of the time, there is no need to completely avoid the foods that you crave,” says Fiuza.
“More rarely, some pregnant women might crave nonfood items such as soil, ice, clay, toothpaste, etc.,” adds Fiuza. “This is known as pica and needs to be assessed by a health care professional, as consuming these can be harmful to both mom and baby.” It’s worth noting that it may also be associated with a nutrient deficiency.
You might have heard that the type of pregnancy cravings you have could be linked with the sex of your baby. Specifically, the unfounded theory is that if you’re experiencing cravings for salty foods, then you’re having a boy, and if you’re experiencing cravings for sweet foods, then you’re having a girl. However, there is no evidence to suggest that pregnancy food cravings are linked to the sex of your baby. Similar to the pendulum test, it’s a fun (but nonscientific) way of trying to guess the sex of your unborn child.
If you’ve experienced no cravings during your pregnancy, then don’t panic; this is also normal, and there’s no need to worry. We know that anywhere between 50% and 90% of pregnant people in the United States will experience food cravings, but that also means that between 10% and 50% of pregnant people will not experience food cravings. Remember that every pregnancy is different, and if you have any concerns, your health care provider should be able to provide you with tailored advice just for you.
“While there is no need to be overly strict with food intake, it is important to try and be mindful of portion sizes and make healthier choices whenever possible,” recommends Fiuza. “Food cravings during pregnancy can alter dietary intake, which can potentially contribute to excess weight gain, particularly if the foods craved are high in sugar or high in fat. We know that gaining too much weight during pregnancy isn’t healthy for both mom and baby.” Your health care provider will be able to advise how much weight you should ideally gain during your pregnancy, as this varies for everyone and is dependent on factors including your prepregnancy weight, body mass index, and how many babies you are carrying.
Fiuza also offers the following advice on sticking to a healthy diet while managing pregnancy food cravings:
- Eat a varied and balanced diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, some lean protein such as turkey, chicken, and fish, and dairy such as pasteurized yogurt.
- Eat regular meals including lean protein and fiber, which can help you feel full and may decrease other cravings. You could also consider having one to two healthy snacks a day to avoid fluctuations in blood sugar, which could trigger cravings. Some ideas for healthy snacks include Greek yogurt with fruit, a handful of nuts, whole grain crackers with cheddar cheese, and raw veggies with hummus.
- Include regular physical activity in your daily routine (unless your health care provider has advised you not to).
- Be mindful of how much and how often you eat foods that are high in sugar or fat and try to make healthy swaps whenever possible. For example, you could have a homemade fruit popsicle or frozen yogurt instead of ice cream if you crave something cold and sweet. Or try a couple of squares of dark chocolate instead of a whole bar of milk chocolate.
- Avoid any foods that can carry a risk for your health or the health of your baby. These include raw and undercooked meat, eggs, and seafood; unpasteurized dairy; alcohol; and excessive amounts of caffeine.
As we’ve seen, pregnancy food cravings are incredibly common. Equally, there’s no need to worry if you don’t experience any cravings at all, and they’re not associated with excessive gestational weight gain, maternal glycemia, or offspring outcome measurements. For those who do experience pregnancy cravings, they’re likely to kick in in the first trimester, sometimes as early as five weeks. They can then get stronger in the second trimester before slowly coming to an end during the third trimester.
There’s no exact science to tell us the most common cravings during pregnancy, but they are likely to include sweets, carbohydrates, fast food, fruit, dairy, spicy foods, pickles, animal protein, and cold foods. It’s generally fine to indulge these cravings as part of a healthy, balanced diet, but there are also some foods that it’s best to avoid, such as dairy products made from unpasteurized milk.
Most importantly, enjoy your pregnancy, and if you have any questions or concerns, always speak to your health care provider.