What your pregnancy cravings really mean

Hormonal fluctuations can change your perception of taste and smell

During those nine months, we can crave the oddest things. Louise Pyne explains why

Whether you lust after chocolate for breakfast, or you can’t stop thinking about gorging on a greasy plate of chips with gravy at 2am, pregnancy cravings are common. In fact, 80% of mamas-to-be confess to hankering after specific foods.

Hormonal fluctuations can change your perception of taste and smell during pregnancy, often sparking strong cravings for particular foods, but there might also be a hidden health meaning to your pregnancy food preferences. Here are the most common cravings and what they could mean.

Chocolate

Why: If you’ve found your sugary cravings have got even sweeter, it could be a sign of a mineral deficiency. The sweet stuff is a source of magnesium, so a strong craving for chocolate could be a sign that you’re low in magnesium, an important mineral which helps to build strong teeth and bones in your baby. Magnesium is also a muscle relaxant, so if you suffer restless legs or sleep issues then increasing levels may help.

What to eat: Nibble on a few squares of dark chocolate and load up on wholegrains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, and dark green leafy veggies like spinach and kale as these are high in magnesium.

Chips

Why: Salty cravings are one of the most common, and one theory is that a yearning for salty food could be the result of your body losing more sodium due to a rise in pregnancy hormones like progesterone.

What to eat: Try to keep oily foods like chips and crisps to a minimum and load up on pickled foods such as sauerkraut and miso soup – both of these are rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria which can boost immunity and digestion.

Curry

Why: A desire for spicy food is common in pregnancy, with one in 20 women reporting a weakness for curry. It’s thought that changing tastebuds are responsible for spicy urges along with the theory that spicy food can bring on labour.

What to eat: Opt for vegetable curries like dhal or chickpea curry served with plain rice as these tend to be easier on the digestive system and lower in fat.

A cheeseburger

Why: It’s not unusual to crave red meat during pregnancy. This is because red meat is high in iron, which is needed for red blood cell formation in your baby. Iron is also a vital component for making haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells, and since blood volume increases by almost 50% during pregnancy it’s even more essential to increase iron stores to ensure oxygen is transported efficiently around the body. Low iron levels can also result in anaemia, a condition that affects up to 24.4% of expectant mums in the UK. Bizarrely, some women get cravings for non-food items like dirt, clay and ice – a phenomenon called pica which can be a sign of anaemia, so make sure to speak to your midwife if you experience this type of craving.

What to eat: Ditch fast food for a palm-sized piece of steak and try leaner cuts like top sirloin or skirt steak which pack in juiciness without a high fat content. And load up on dark green leaves, including rocket and spinach, for an extra punch.

Ice cream

Why: If the thought of an extra-large scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled in chocolate sauce makes you go weak at the knees you’re not alone. Core body temperature rises during pregnancy which can naturally make you feel hotter than usual, and by the time you’re due to give birth you’ll have gained around 12.5kg which can make you sweat more than normal – no wonder you’re longing for something ice cold and sweet!

What to eat: Ice cream is loaded with sugar which can play havoc with energy-stabilising blood sugar levels. Swap ice cream for a pot of creamy Greek yogurt with puréed berries for a sweet treat that won’t send blood sugar levels soaring.

Lemon

Why: Many women get a thirst for sour, zesty flavours during pregnancy because of changing tastebuds. Lemon is a natural nausea aid, so a desire for the tangy fruit during the first trimester could be your body’s way of helping to curb queasiness.

What to eat: Try to incorporate lemon into your daily diet. Start your day with a cup of hot water and lemon to calm digestion and help alleviate nausea, add a slice of lemon to herbal teas and use lemon juice in a salad dressing and as a marinade base.