By: Laurie Edwards for Uterus1
We’re all accustomed to tales of pregnant women consuming wacky food combinations like peanut butter and pickles or engaging in late-night sojourns to the freezer for rocky road ice cream. Why women crave certain foods during pregnancy remains unclear, but it now looks like the root may be in women’s minds, not their stomachs – and that the age-old maternal instinct to protect is already thriving.
| Healthy eating tips for pregnant women:|
Eat a balanced diet that includes lots of lean proteins, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
Watch the scale: You need to put on weight; experts recommend 25-35 lbs for a single baby and 35-45 lbs for twins. Excessive weight gain increases the risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.
Eat small amounts frequently to avoid large drops in blood sugar, which can increase cravings.
Avoid raw vegetable sprouts, raw or undercooked meats and seafood and unpasteurized juices and milk as well as cheeses such as Camembert, Roquefort and many Mexican-style varieties.
Avoid alcohol and herbal teas.
If you’re craving something specific, it might be because your body needs it, so in some cases, give in to the craving. What’s important to consider – as always – is the amount of food you eat and to avoid foods known to pose risk to you and your baby. And remember, our world of fast food, sub-zero freezers and take-out is a far cry from that of our ancestors, so the messages our body sends us may get scrambled.
“Some experts say cravings, and their flip side, food aversions, are protective, even if there is no scientific data to back up that theory,” said Dr. Siobhan Dolan, assistant medical director of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation and assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
What are examples of this? Many women no longer feel the urge to drink alcohol or beer while pregnant, which, since they pose a great risk for a developing fetus, is a good thing. Many women also say they can’t even stand the thought of chicken when pregnant. Before the modern comfort of refrigeration, meats like chicken posed the threat of spreading bacteria, so perhaps this innate avoidance is the body’s way of counteracting that.
Some believe that craving salty foods is the body’s way of getting the sodium it needs, or that craving cheesy, fattening foods is fueled by the body’s need for more calcium. But does that mean the body’s cells directly translate that need into a specific food? Probably not.
More likely, it’s a combination of pregnancy hormones and preference that means some women want pepperoni pizza while others want cookie dough ice cream. During pregnancy, hormones intensify the body’s sense of smell, which influences taste and therefore, the food choices we make.
There’s something to be said for comfort food as well. “It’s possible that women who are feeling nauseous, bloated, tired or crabby due to the effects of pregnancy hormones look for foods to increase their comfort level,” said registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association Elisa Zied.
Exercising in moderation and knowing what foods to avoid are key for a happy mother and a healthy baby. Raw or undercooked seafood, meat or eggs should always be avoided; cooking them well eliminates potentially harmful bacteria. Unpasteurized dairy, such as feta or Brie, are also off-limits.
Heidi Murkoff, author of “Eating Well When You’re Expecting,” recommends tilapia, cod or flounder to pregnant women, since smoked seafood also carries the risk of listeria.
Murkoff encourages women to follow their cravings, since often they are things the body needs, but she encourages women to find healthy alternatives: “More often, we crave foods that aren’t so healthy. It’s fine to give into those cravings once in awhile – but more often, it’s a good idea to try and find a substitute that satisfies the craving.”
How can you do that? Instead of ice cream, try a sorbet or make a fresh fruit smoothie, which contains calcium as well as vitamin C. Instead of greasy potato chips, get your salt fix from soy chips, which contain high amounts of protein instead of fat. Low-fat yogurt is a healthier way to get calcium than, say, full-fat cheddar.
And if you can’t resist the urge for a chocolate-glazed doughnut no matter what, go for it. Just don’t make it a habit!
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