A food craving, also known as selective hunger, is defined as “an intense desire to consume a specific food”. Food cravings are considered different from normal hunger as they can be triggered by a myriad of factors, one of which stems from being pregnant.
Pregnancy cravings are a common occurrence for expectant women and studies show that 50% to 90% of pregnant women will either crave a specific dish or food or be completely turned off by a food(s) they normally enjoy.
For the average pregnant woman, cravings usually start in the first trimester, peak during the second trimester and decline by the third trimester; though residual cravings may still linger after delivery.
Pregnancy cravings differ depending on the woman but for example, in the United States, reported common cravings for expectant women include confectionery such as ice-cream and chocolate, fast food such as Chinese takeout and pizza, and starchy carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. In the United Kingdom, a recent survey carried out by Pregnacare revealed that common pregnancy cravings among women included chocolate, fruit and ice pops.
So what exactly is the cause of pregnancy cravings? Multiple theories abound, one of which revolves around pregnancy hormones. In the early stages of pregnancy, a woman’s body is flooded with hormones, which may exacerbate certain cravings – for example, if you tend to crave chocolate before your period, the craving may be heightened during pregnancy.
A second possibility may be due to how a woman’s senses are heightened and/or dulled during pregnancy. As a result, women may crave certain foods with bolder flavors and textures to compensate for their dulled taste receptors or may suddenly develop an aversion to certain foods, flavors and textures because their taste buds are suddenly hyper-attuned to the taste of certain dishes.
A third theory revolves around the idea that your body craves something because it needs a certain nutrient or vitamin or is suddenly repulsed by a certain something because it is not good for you and the baby. However, due to the excess of processed foods and reliance on foods far removed from our ancestors’ diet, sometimes pregnancy cravings may be a result of crossed nutrition signals resulting in strange food combinations, which have become a staple pregnancy joke – i.e. pregnant women love pickles with ice-cream.
Lastly, pregnancy cravings may be a result of something as simple as a need for comfort food. Some expectant women crave foods and dishes they associate with their childhood or culture – for example, a study showed that pregnant Japanese women had multiple cravings for rice. The need for comfort food may be more psychological than anything else but it can also serve as a means to bond with the unborn child while tending to the pregnant woman’s wants, needs and comforts.
In conclusion, cravings during pregnancy are a real and common side effect for expectant women. Some may develop cravings for a certain food, dish or odd combination of flavors and textures while others may discover that foods that once enjoyed suddenly test their gag reflex. Although there are no concrete theories as to why pregnancy cravings exist, some possibilities for its existence may include pregnancy hormones, heightened or dulled senses, a body’s instinctive need for nutrients or even just the psychological need to seek comfort through childhood and cultural foods.