Many women experience food cravings and/or aversions during pregnancy and wonder what causes them or whether or not they serve a purpose. The answers vary depending on health professional or source, and we still need more research to know exactly why these happen. Interestingly, both cravings and aversions tend to happen around the same time in the first trimester of pregnancy, along with hormonal shifts, so many experts believe that cravings and aversions are hormone-related.
About 75% of women say that they have some sort of craving during pregnancy, and again, scientists aren’t really sure why. Some suspect that we crave foods that contain nutrients that our body is lacking—so if you’re low in calcium, you may crave dairy foods. But there’s no real evidence to support this.
Some people crave really healthy foods, while others have more indulgent desires. Of course, it’s fine to give in to cravings, as long as the foods are safe to eat while pregnant (e.g. no raw meat, or soft cheese) and you are mindful of portions. You don’t want to give into energy-dense food cravings to the exclusion of nutrient-dense foods in your diet.
Food Aversions and Cravings May Serve a Purpose!
There’s also some speculation that food aversions may serve a protective purpose, perhaps preventing you from eating foods that could make you sick or a combination of nutrients that’s not right for your body. Again, this is only a theory—more research is needed. Cravings during pregnancy may not necessarily be related to pregnancy though. It could be a sign that your blood sugar levels are out of balance, especially if you’re consuming a lot of highly processed carbohydrate foods and not eating enough satiating foods that contain protein, dietary fat or dietary fibre. Something to consider!
There is no one-size fits all solution to food cravings or aversions during pregnancy. Unfortunately, we’re not really 100% sure why these happen, and there may be several factors at play. It’s important to eat intuitively and it’s ok to avoid foods that turn you off or gravitate towards foods that you crave, as long as you’re receiving the proper nutrition for a healthy pregnancy.
For the most part, cravings and aversions are nothing to fear and not a sign that anything is wrong.
Food aversions during pregnancy:
There may be certain smells or flavors that turn your stomach when you’re pregnant—and often they are foods you used to love (unfortunately). Common food aversions are to strong flavors, such as garlic, onions, spices, and coffee. That being said, I had a serious aversion to chicken during all three of my pregnancies, a food that isn’t particularly strong tasting at all! But if you can’t stand the taste or smell of certain foods, simply avoid them. Know that it’s totally normal, it’s common, and it will pass!
As mentioned above, food aversions during pregnancy often go hand-in-hand with pregnancy-related nausea, something that is quite common, especially in the first trimester!
Is there a link between cravings, aversions and pregnancy-related nausea?
Researchers have examined the link between the first occurrences of nausea, vomiting, food cravings, and food aversions during pregnancy and found a significant positive correlation between them. Interestingly, 60% of women reporting both nausea and food aversions said that the first occurrence of each happened in the same week of pregnancy. What does that mean? You may be turned off by foods that made you feel queasy. Makes sense, right?! More on pregnancy-related nausea below.
Nausea or morning sickness during pregnancy:
Symptoms of nausea or morning sickness (which isn’t necessarily only restricted to the “morning”) typically occur during the first trimester, and for many women, they are one of the first signs of pregnancy! Symptoms typically appear around the sixth week of pregnancy and generally disappear around the end of the first trimester (but not always). More than half of women experience morning sickness, with the severity ranging from slight queasiness to excessive vomiting, something known as hyperemesis gravidarum.
Some women are ill only in the morning, some women feel sick all day long, and others may feel sick only in the evening. While you are feeling nauseous it can be difficult to eat enough food to receive the calories and nutrients you need to stay nourished throughout your pregnancy.
Tips to reduce pregnancy-related nausea:
Include protein in every meal and snack.
The sight or smell of meat can trigger nausea in many pregnant women, but eating enough protein can actually help keep that queasiness away. If meat isn’t your thing, there are many non-meat sources of protein to help you meet your needs. Things like beans, lentils, tofu, dairy foods like milk, Greek yogurt or cheese, eggs, nuts (including nut butters), and seeds are all good sources of protein. Make sure to include at least a little bit in each meal and snack. Having a high-protein snack before bed can also prevent the sick feeling associated with an empty stomach in the morning. Speaking of which, here are the best foods for a healthy pregnancy.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry.
Eating every two to three hours can help your blood sugar levels stay stable and help you feel full, especially if you’re including foods rich in protein and fibre. An empty stomach can trigger nausea. My favourite snacks were apple slices and peanut butter, hummus and whole grain crackers and veggies, homemade trail mix or protein-rich muffins or energy bites. Even a quality bar such as Made with Local’s Real Food Bars can do the trick!
Give into cravings—within reason.
If you crave a certain food, chances are it will sit well with you and not make you feel nauseous. Eating even just a small serving can help alleviate the queasiness long enough to eat a nutritious meal.
Consider switching your prenatal multivitamin.
Many women find that the supplement form of iron (and even folate) in their prenatal multivitamin can cause nausea. You can ask your doctor or midwife for a different brand of prenatal multivitamin or for a chewable or liquid alternative. Take your supplements with food and not on an empty stomach, or try taking them right at bedtime.
Keep a light snack beside your bed.
If you’re experiencing a lot of morning sickness, before getting out of bed in the morning have a quick bite of something light. Soda crackers are a really popular option because they’re neutral tasting and a bit salty.
Consider trying ginger.
It’s an age-old remedy, but this one is backed by science too, especially during the first trimester. Ginger really can reduce nausea and vomiting in pregnancy! You can slice some fresh ginger into a mug and pour boiling water over it—you’ve just made ginger tea, or try homemade ginger cookies or ginger loaf, or even crystallized ginger. You can use ginger in any your cooking or baking—stir-fries, muffins, fruit salad, etc.
Try drinking fluids before or after meals, instead of with meals.
And sip throughout the day so you don’t get dehydrated, especially when you are vomiting. If you find it hard to drink enough water, try adding natural flavouring such as fresh or frozen fruit, cucumber slices or a squeeze some lemon or lime in!
Bottom line on food aversions:
You’re not alone if you are experiencing pregnancy-related food aversions or food cravings, and they are not to be feared. And although they are quite common, we really don’t know 100% why yet! Whether they are tied to hormone shifts, increased energy needs, or because your body is telling you that it needs particular nutrients, we’re not sure. Regardless, there are a few things you can do to control cravings, manage pregnancy-related nausea (which often goes part and parcel with cravings and aversions) such as including a little bit of protein in each meal and snack.
If you’re experiencing extreme nausea and vomiting or feel as though you’re not gaining the appropriate amount of weight, talk to your doctor about it and consider seeking help from a prenatal dietitian.