The Science Behind Pregnancy Cravings

Row of Pregnant Bellies

Most people know the joke about pregnant women craving pickles and ice cream. But is this really a joke? You may be surprised to learn that there is some scientific truth behind pregnancy food cravings. 

The cravings that some women experience during pregnancy are so strong that it can be nearly impossible not to give in. While each woman can have different hankerings, the most popular cravings fall into the “comfort food” category. We consider comfort foods as those that are typically high in fat and calories. In many cases, these foods also contain salt and dairy. 

There are a couple different theories behind pregnancy and comfort food cravings. Some attribute it to the lower dopamine levels during pregnancy. Dopamine is a “feel good” chemical, so perhaps women crave foods that make them feel good to compensate for this deprivation. For most, the “feel good” foods include mashed potatoes, milkshakes and other high fat, high calorie options.

Another approach to explaining pregnancy cravings is that expectant mothers hunger for foods that their body needs to support a pregnancy. This could include specific nutrients that their body may be missing. For example, a woman who has deprived herself of fatty foods or carbohydrates before pregnancy may suddenly crave these types of food choices because her body is signaling a deficiency. In a recent HuffPost article, Alisa Vitti, Functional Nutritionist, states that “salt cravings can indicate a magnesium deficiency, dairy cravings a calcium deficiency, sweet cravings a carbohydrate and calorie deficiency, fat cravings an essential fatty acid deficiency.”

If you are pregnant and concerned about your strong (or even weird) food cravings, mention it to one our physicians. We can help you determine if it is normal or something that needs further investigation. At North Pointe OB/GYN, we are here to listen and address all of your pregnancy symptoms – even if it is the midnight run for ice cream and pickles! 

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