Pregnancy can do funny things to your appetite. Some foods become absolutely intolerable, while others become so essential to your well-being that you’ll send your partner out to fetch said item at 3 a.m.
Genesis Davies, formerly of British Columbia and now living in Guatemala, had serious cravings with both her pregnancies. “With my firstborn I went through 10 pounds of strawberries a week, and I scarfed olives like mad,” says Davies. “With my second, I had to have tuna on soda crackers every day, even though I detest fish. I would be plugging my nose because the smell really bothered me, but the taste was just what I needed.”
“Historically we thought that cravings may have been due to iron or other mineral or vitamin deficiencies, but now we don’t think this is true,” says Dr. Heather Robinson, an obstetrician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. Nobody knows exactly why we get pregnancy cravings. There hasn’t been too much research done on the topic, although one theory is that cravings and aversions developed from a survival technique to protect the developing fetus.
For example, many women develop an intense aversion to meat, which may be because of the many harmful bacteria that could be lurking in it. “The nausea caused by a food aversion could be to make the mother avoid any toxic contaminants, such as E. coli,” says Dr. Robinson.
This is something that Suzanne Peruzzini, from Dartmouth, N.S., can relate to. “For my whole pregnancy I could not look at cooked or raw meat, smell it or eat it, except for hamburger or bacon if it was in a BLT,” says Peruzzini, who subsequently ate BLTs every day for four months, as it was the only thing she could stomach at work.
Dr. Robinson says that around 50 percent of the women she talks to experience pregnancy cravings, and in most cases surrendering to them is pretty harmless.
“Of course it depends what the craving is for, and you need to keep in mind that women only need to eat an extra 300 calories a day when pregnant, so you shouldn’t use your pregnancy as an excuse to have whatever you want. Pregnancy is not a license to have a bar of chocolate every day!” says Dr. Robinson, adding that you should consume healthier versions of your favourite products whenever possible. The exception to this is if you can’t stomach anything but the food you crave. “If you are having trouble eating due to nausea, then give in and eat whatever you can keep down,” says Dr. Robinson.
There are of course some cravings that you need to be extra careful with. Booze is a no-no, so if you’re dying for a beer you’ll need to learn to like the alcohol-free variety. The usual rules about avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and only eating meats, fish and poultry that are fully cooked need to overrule your hunger, so sushi and steak tartare are definitely out (no matter how much you fantasize about eating them).
Davies was concerned about her fish craving, because of the possible mercury content, but limited her consumption. “Since I never usually eat tuna, or any other kind of fish, I figured giving in to my cravings wouldn’t be a terrible thing to do,” she says.
Some women worry too much about what they are consuming when they are pregnant, when in fact, “most women do a good job of eating well in pregnancy,” says Dr. Robinson. “The placenta is well designed to ensure a growing fetus gets what it needs.”
Lola Augustine Brown could barely eat anything for the first three months of her pregnancy, then craved Turkish delight for the remainder of it. She required two fillings post pregnancy.
Respondents on our online poll said they craved sweets the most during their pregnancy. Runners-up were salty foods (23 percent), carbs (14 percent) and meat (eight percent).
Keep reading to learn more about maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight.