Most women experience food cravings at some time during their pregnancy. While these cravings might be for a specific type of cuisine or an unusual food, they typically include the desire for sweet, salty, spicy or fatty foods. Some women even crave nonfood products.
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Cravings during pregnancy are most likely the result of hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies or other changes in the mother, but some people believe that the baby’s sex can be revealed by the types of cravings.
Hormones, Emotions and Evolution
Several theories attempt to explain why food cravings occur in pregnancy. Hormonal changes are known to alter taste and smell, which might explain the desire for specific, sometimes unusual foods. Food intake is also connected to emotions.
During pregnancy, women might crave specific foods, consciously or unconsciously, as a response to emotional needs. Another theory suggests that cravings for some foods developed during human evolution as a way to reduce morning sickness.
Nutritional deficiencies may also cause cravings. Deficiencies occur more commonly in pregnancy because of the increased nutritional needs of the baby. A shortage of specific nutrients might lead to the urge to consume foods rich in those nutrients.
Cravings for red meat, for example, may indicate the need for more protein, and cravings for peaches might indicate a carotene deficiency. Cravings for chocolate may indicate a magnesium or vitamin B deficiency.
Some pregnant women experience pica — a craving for non-nutritional substances such as chalk, dirt, laundry starch, clay or ice. Pica may also indicate the presence of nutritional deficiencies. Cravings for ice or laundry starch suggest an iron deficiency, and cravings for chalk or dirt may indicate the need for more essential fatty acids.
Some people believe that abnormal cravings during pregnancy are caused by the sex of the baby. For example, if a pregnant woman primarily craves sweets or dairy products, it is said that she will have a girl. If a woman craves sour, salty, spicy or protein-rich foods, some people claim that she must be having a boy.
However, there's no scientific evidence to back up any of these beliefs. So, even if you're craving chocolate cake your entire pregnancy, you could still be having a boy, and even if you are obsessed with lemon juice, you may still be having a girl.
What to Do
Discuss your food cravings with your doctor. Simple blood tests can determine whether you have any nutritional deficiencies. Your doctor can also help you find ways to deal with your food cravings while maintaining a healthy diet.
For example, if you crave salty food, try popcorn sprinkled with herbs as a healthy snack. If you crave nonfood products, don't give in to your urges, as they can be harmful to both you and your baby.
Reviewed by Mary D. Daley, M.D.