Food cravings are sudden urges to eat a particular type of food. They are a real phenomenon and affect many women during pregnancy.
Sometimes cravings are for common foods such as chocolate cake or apples, and sometimes there is an urge to eat unusual food combinations or a type of food that you normally don’t like.
Common food cravings include ice cream, chocolate and other sweet foods, fish, dairy products and fruit.
Why do cravings develop?
No one really knows why food cravings develop. It seems logical that cravings might be due to something lacking in the diet, or an increased need for certain vitamins and minerals. However, there is no evidence of a link between cravings and nutrient deficiency.
In addition to food cravings, many pregnant women also develop a sudden dislike or aversion for certain strong-tasting foods.
Food cravings and sudden food aversions may have something to with the effects of pregnancy hormones, which can change the way some foods taste and smell.
What to do about cravings
It is OK to give in to the occasional food craving, as long as you continue to eat a good variety of healthy foods.
If you are craving a lot of unhealthy foods, such as sweets or chocolate, try not to over-indulge. Too much sugar can cause excessive weight gain and dental problems.
Your doctor, midwife or maternal and child health nurse can provide more information about healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
Some tips for managing unhealthy cravings
Eat regular, healthy meals, to help prevent sudden feelings of hunger.
Keep your pantry stocked with healthy snacks to eat between meals.
Don’t do the grocery shopping when you are hungry.
Choose healthy, low glycaemic index (GI) foods that keep you full for longer. Examples include unsweetened rolled oats (porridge), wholegrain breads, baked beans and fresh fruit.
Get plenty of sleep. Research has shown that people who are sleep deprived tend to crave junk food more often than healthy foods.
Foods to avoid
When you are pregnant, there are a number of foods that should avoid. Things like soft cheeses, sushi, raw eggs and undercooked meat can contain harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. and lead to harmful illnesses such as listeria or toxoplasmosis. Read more about the foods to avoid during your pregnancy.
There is no safe level of alcohol that you can have during your pregnancy. Whether you are planning a pregnancy, already pregnant or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option as alcohol can harm your unborn baby.
Some pregnant women develop a craving to eat substances that are not food, such as chalk, clay, laundry starch or soap. This is a condition called pica, and it may indicate a mineral deficiency or severe anaemia. Pica is thought to be fairly rare in well-nourished women from developed countries such as Australia.
See your doctor, midwife or nurse if you develop cravings for non-food items.