Pregnancy cravings and what they really mean
Would you like a chocolate covered pickle with that?
From beer to midnight rushes to the stores, pregnant women everywhere experience cravings. Stories abound about this common pregnancy “symptom” – but what do these crazy cravings really mean?
Let’s talk nutrition basics.
Every day needs to be balanced with protein, fat, and carbohydrates. While that’s a good rule of thumb to follow, we can get those three things with a big slice of cake or candy bar. Cake is fun for the first birthday but it’s not going to fill your body, or your baby, with the ability to assimilate nutrients, remove toxins, and generally feel energized with a healthy blood volume.
Wait, what? I have to actually think about my food choices?
Well, yea, to a degree. Your body needs way more than the basic food pyramid and the trio of protein-fat-carb, but it doesn’t need to be rocket science, either. You have cravings because you’re missing something and your body craves what it knows – either from experience or cultural understanding. Most cravings have similar meanings behind them because the majority of foods people (that includes Dad) crave, are missing similar nutrients: dark leafy greens, a variety of colorful foods, and properly prepared meals of whole fresh ingredients that haven’t been picked too soon or highly processed.
Every day, eat a rainbow of properly-prepared meals with variety and seasonal selections.
It can somewhat be that simple... if what we had access to was wild-gathered and hunted foods. We likely wouldn't be overindulging meat and wild edibles are our most nutrient-packed options. Unfortunately for our long-term health, grocery stores make healthy food selections quite difficult. Even what we might assume to be healthy is often loaded with sugar, artificial dyes and flavorings, preservatives, and even "enriched" synthetic vitamins that don't compare in function to their naturally-created counterparts. This is part of our high experience of cravings both during pregnancy and beyond.
Following are some of the most common pregnancy cravings and tips on healthy alternatives.
Sugar is one of the most common pregnancy cravings. Most modern diets are filled to the max with sugar, often hidden. Greek yogurt has a great amount of protein, but it’s filled with candy-bar amounts of sugar unless its plain. Same goes for granola bars, snack crackers, pasta sauces, and just about every commercially prepared option in your local grocery store. Your body converts everything to a "sugar" (i.e. glucose) through digestion as well so the faster it gets into this form, the faster it digests or rather the faster it creates a reaction in the body - which is what "digestion" really is. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that simple processed sugar and sugar alternatives tax the liver’s ability to process toxins which make cravings more intense.
Your body needs filled with wholesome foods so each organ can do the job it’s designed to do, not go into survival mode. When your body receives a regular supply of sugar substances (be it white sugar, alternative sugars, honey and “healthy” sugars, or a plate of pasta) it causes your body to dip in energy quickly and crave that quick energy over and over again. There's a good chance that peanut butter pickle craving is also a gut imbalance issue caused from too many simple carbs (sugar) in the diet. This is an addiction, but luckily it only takes about a week to break the cravings and some conscious effort thereafter. Keep in mind that sugar cravings are deep-rooted. Our brain needs sugar and our body is designed to seek out the sweet to obtain this energy. The sooner we start adding concentrated sugars into our diet (think processed baby food, cultural celebrations, and give-a-kid-a-piece-of-candy-for-everything mentality) the stronger these skewed cravings become. A supply of healthy protein rich snacks paired with healthy fats and whole (not juice) fruit and vegetable sugars will be your withdraw buddy.
How can I beat my sugar craving?
Handful of unsalted nuts, avocado slices, and a handful of fresh berries.
Hardboiled egg and a green smoothie (well-balanced with water, no concentrated juices but whole fruit and vegetables and some plain yogurt).
Just not enough? Try 1 frozen banana, a large spoonful of nut butter, and a teaspoon of cocoa powder blended in a food processor for a wholesomely sweetened ice cream.
Next best thing besides sugar? A decadent piece of chocolate. I won’t torture you with descriptions, but this little guy used to be so rare and desired it was used as a source of money. There was a time I would have accepted a few boxes of chocolate in trade for doula services. Why is this nut so wonderful and high on the pregnancy craving list? Partly because people aren't eating raw cacao and there is a sugar craving hidden in here. Mostly though, it's magnesium, gals; something many of us are sore-fully depleted in; and I bet your leg cramps are letting you know, too. Although some leg cramps are caused from body misalignment issues and lack of movement, we have to be sure we're getting adequate micro and macronutrients daily. Magnesium is needed for nerve health, blood health, metabolism, cell formation… what is it not needed for? Add another human inside you, and your needs increase when you may already have been depleted.
How can I beat my chocolate craving?
Sprouted bean soup with a bone stock base and multigrain bread.
Fruit salad tossed with watercress and hemp hearts.
Just not enough? Try a tablespoon of raw cacao nibs in 2 cups of water simmered on low for 10-20 minutes. Add coconut milk with a teaspoon of honey for a twist on hot cocoa. Save this for the morning cuppa and only on occasion due to the caffeine.
You may not even be a beer drinker, but something about that fermented fizzy smell just gets you during pregnancy. In some countries, a small glass of wine now and then is not only acceptable, but encouraged, though this pregnancy craving is more typical of the fizz and herb-richness of beer. Maybe it’s the stress relief you need, maybe it’s the gut balance, but many times a beer craving is a desire for sugar (see above) or calcium. Along with magnesium, calcium supports nerve, bone, cell, and heart health.
How can I beat my beer craving?
Steam broccoli just until the color brightens, add a dab of real butter and sprinkle on just a little pink Himalayan salt.
Mix a big bowl of spinach and kale topped with sliced almonds and your favorite additive-free vinaigrette.
Just not enough? Try a small cup of water kefir that has been bottled with fruits and herbs, then fermented again in an air-tight container for carbonation.
Thirst/Lack of Thirst
Hydration is crucial, but it doesn’t happen just by downing liters of water. Whether you’re totally parched or never thirsty, both of these pregnancy cravings can indicate a lack of hydration. Many moms are experiencing low amniotic fluid levels later in pregnancy, and this can usually be an easy fix if you just stay hydrated. Keep your skin hydrated with natural oils like olive and coconut, avoid overly-hot showers that remove moisture externally, and reduce shaving to keep the oils on the skin when possible. Reduce internal toxins so the liver and kidneys function at their peak.
What you need is the same balance of colorful nutrients that allow the water you drink (and eat) to be absorbed into the body. Wholesome foods grown in good soil, picked at the peak of ripeness, and consumed quickly thereafter pack the biggest punch when it comes to quality and quantity of nutrients. If you simply choose foods that are already hydrated like soups and fresh produce, your body obtains the hydration while you’re eating and you don’t have to gorge yourself with water that ultimately just makes you pee more. You don’t need help with that during pregnancy, ammiright?
How can I beat my thirst/no thirst craving?
Use homemade bone stock as a base for soup at least three times a week.
Add a whole organic lemon, including the peel, to a cup of water each morning. Warm it up on the stove for tea if you’d like.
Just not enough? Water doesn’t have to be boring! Put it in a wine glass and rim it with lemon. Spruce up your water with cucumber slices, watermelon, and fresh berries - excellent for electrolyte balance. Keep a tall glass filled with you at all times so you don’t forget to sip.
Ice, Dirt or Mud Craving
And you thought mud pies were just a fun way to play outside. Oddly enough, animals aren’t the only living creatures that actually do consume natural clays. They can have incredible toxin eliminating effects (though, caution is wise as they also adsorb nutrients from food you eat at the same time and this is a bit different than just going into the back yard and, “Just a minute, hun, I’m making Georgia Mud Crumble with our chicken tonight”). Crunchy cravings, dirt, or mud are also indicators that you could be low on iron or anemic (not always the same thing). Although many prenatal vitamins have high levels of iron in them already, and a lot of moms are prescribed more iron in addition, these forms are poorly assimilated and often just cause constipation. Once again, we’re back to steamed dark leafy greens and wholesome properly prepared foods. It is important to note, calcium can inhibit the absorption of iron, though this effect isn’t as strong in foods that contain both iron and calcium as the other nutrients of whole foods work together in harmony to increase bioavailability. Real food is fascinating, eh?
How can I beat my ice, dirt, or mud craving?
Twisted sushi made with seaweed, of course, plus cooked fish (of the small kind for lowered mercury levels), whole grain rice, eggs, and sprouted veggies.
Grilled steak sliced over a bed of dark leafy greens and topped with pineapples for added flavor as well as supporting the digestion of red meats.
Just not enough? Try adding a chlorella and spirulina supplement to your daily routine. These algae are packed full of nutrients, including iron, and their chlorophyll (with a similar molecular structure to blood) content helps the body build blood levels without the side-effects of constipation.
This is the one that gets us all. Most physical food cravings are associated with some type of emotional relaxation. Maybe we just have to have that cup of coffee to wake us up in the morning (even though we know we'll crash later and the same amount of caffeine in a matcha tea just doesn't do it for us). That creamy latte just makes you feel so warm and uplifted. Maybe you keep that stash of candies at your desk for confidence that you don't have bad breath at any moment. The ritual dessert after a dinner to a nice restaurant or the handful of chocolates when the kids go to bed just gives that sigh of completeness.
Instead of overcoming experience as a complication, we have to use it to our advantage. We have to make new craving habits so we get that oxytocin release after a healthy food choice. Put your smoothie in a fancy glass. Make a dessert of fresh berries with a lemon balm, citrus infused whole leaf stevia tea splashed over top. Make holidays less focused on the sweets and more focused on the fun and activities planned. Pour your morning pregnancy tea in a big two-handed mug (even if you brewed it in your single-serve). When we make healthy choices fun, our brain desires not only the physical nourishment, but the complete holistic experience as well.
So, now what are you craving?
Whole foods, wholesomely prepared. Eat small balanced meals routinely throughout the day and your blood sugar balance will be at an even keel to help you avoid those cravings that can cause fatigue, agitation, and general poor eating habits.