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Pregnant and Craving Pickles? An Expert Explains Why You’re Experiencing Strange Food Cravings

March 17, 2022
Bradie Hutton
Registered Dietitian

We’ve all heard the type of pregnant people craving the strangest food combinations. Pickles with peanut butter, anyone? Although there is no concrete explanation behind this symptom, there are a few theories that may explain why pregnant people experience cravings. We asked a registered dietitian all about pregnancy cravings to get to the root of it all! So if you find yourself craving ice cream with hot sauce, this blog was made for you!

What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?

Many individuals experience food cravings during pregnancy– and despite being one of the most commonly reported pregnancy symptoms, we don’t actually know the exact cause of cravings in pregnancy. There are a few different theories to explain why pregnant people might experience cravings:

Hormonal and Metabolic Changes

Many hormonal and metabolic changes are happening in the body during pregnancy which may play a role in cravings. As an example, the hormone progesterone rises significantly during the first trimester which can stimulate increased appetite. This may be a culprit behind early pregnancy cravings. Other hormonal and metabolic changes throughout pregnancy might play into cravings as well.

Nutrient Deficiencies

There is speculation that our food cravings may be tied to our body needing more of certain nutrients. For example, if someone who is pregnant has low iron levels, they may experience a food craving for an iron-rich food option such as red meat. This might explain your sudden appetite for Big Mac from McDonald's!

Increased appetite

Food cravings in pregnancy may also be related to increased appetite. Increased appetite in early pregnancy could be rooted in hormonal changes such as rising progesterone levels. It may also be linked to increased energy requirements during pregnancy. Starting in the second trimester, and then again in the third trimester, your daily energy requirements increase to support physiological changes and fetal development. If you are not quite getting enough energy from your foods, you may be craving certain foods as your body’s way of trying to help you meet your energy needs.

We still need more research to fully understand the root cause of food cravings in pregnancy!

How Early in Pregnancy Do You Get Cravings?

Pregnancy cravings can start at any point during your pregnancy. Many individuals who experience food cravings will notice them in their first trimester of pregnancy. Since there are many hormonal shifts happening during the first trimester, early pregnancy cravings line up with the idea that hormonal changes may be a driving force behind pregnancy cravings. Typically, people report that pregnancy cravings are most noticeable in the first and second trimesters of their pregnancy.

What Affects Your Cravings?

A lot of different factors might affect your cravings during pregnancy and exacerbate the feeling of needing certain foods.

Low Energy Levels

Our energy levels and blood sugar control can impact our food cravings. If we’re feeling tired throughout our day, we may experience more food cravings at those times. This can be your body’s way of trying to get a quick source of fuel to help manage the low energy levels. You may notice at these times that you’re craving carbohydrate-rich foods, as carbs are your body’s first choice for energy. This may explain why we seek comfort food (i.e. chips, bread, pasta) when we are stressed and tired.

Unsatisfied Appetite

Our food cravings can be impacted by our appetite as well. If we are feeling hungry throughout the day, this is our body’s way of telling us that we may not be having enough or we may not be having the right balance of foods. As a result, we might have more food cravings at these times.

Experiencing a lot of Emotions

Psychological factors can play a huge role in our food cravings! We often crave foods for comfort and coping when we’re feeling a wide range of different emotions. This can definitely be the case during pregnancy as you’re preparing for an entirely new chapter in your life.

How Can I Reduce My Food Craving Urges?

Food cravings may be a significant symptom in your pregnancy and we often focus on how we have to try to resist these cravings. But contrary to what you might think, we don’t have to ignore our cravings altogether. We can absolutely indulge and enjoy all foods in moderation (aside from foods to limit in pregnancy for food safety, that is).

However, food cravings can become more of a challenge when “treat” foods are frequently taking the place of nutrient-dense foods that will support our pregnancy. Here are some strategies that can help you to manage your cravings in pregnancy!

1. Satisfy your craving

When you experience a food craving, let yourself enjoy foods in moderation! When we deprive ourselves or label foods as "off-limits", we tend to crave them more.

2. Practice mindful eating strategies

When you do enjoy food that you’re craving, try to eat it slowly and mindfully. This means eating and enjoying the food with all of your senses so that you can really fully enjoy that food experience.

3. Eat regularly throughout the day

If you have long gaps between your meals and snacks, your food cravings may be stronger due to increased appetite or low energy levels. Try to aim for a meal or snack about every 3-4 hours.

4. Balance snacks with protein and fibre

Balancing snacks with protein and fibre will help to increase satiety after a meal, along with increasing the duration that you feel satisfied.

About The Author

Bradie is a registered dietitian who completed her Bachelor of Applied Science in Nutrition and Food and Master of Health Sciences in Nutrition Communication at Ryerson University. Throughout her education, Bradie developed a passion for women's health, perinatal nutrition, and pediatric nutrition.

At PUSH - Mama Care, she specializes in these areas by working with new and expectant mothers in order to ensure that all of their nutrition needs are being met. Bradie believes in the importance of using nutrition as a tool to help both mama and baby—by supporting their health and quality of life during fetal development, post-partum, and beyond.

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