Everybody knows that pregnancy is a great excuse… uh… time, we mean time… to gorge on sweets, meat and everything in between. After all, you’re eating for you and for baby! And as unhealthy as some foods may be, pregnancy cravings can be hard to suppress.
But can you resist or stop these cravings? Or substitute something healthier that still feeds your cravings? SmartParents talked to several nutritionists to find out more.
“If you look at it from an evolutionary point of view, cravings ensure that a pregnant woman gets key nutrients for the survival of mum and child,” says Pooja Vig, a nutritionist at The Nutrition Clinic.
Cravings usually start in the first trimester, heighten in the second and start declining in the third trimester. Nutritionist Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran from the Singapore Nutrition & Dietetics Association (SNDA), explained that cravings in pregnancy are caused by fluctuations of the mother’s hormones, changes in the way she perceives tastes and smells, maternal and/or foetal nutritional needs and preferences, some evolutionary mechanisms that protect the foetus from toxins, and cultural norms.
“Cravings ensure that a pregnant woman gets key nutrients for the survival of mum and child.”
Some cravings result from a nutritional deficiency. Pooja says, “I had a client who had been on a vegan diet for several years before becoming pregnant. In her pregnancy, she had strong cravings for red meat. That was her body's signal that she needed the protein and iron top up during pregnancy.”
In general, how you can exercise control over your cravings is by:
- Eating small, healthy meals throughout your pregnancy. Plan for healthy snacks such as a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit.
- Eating breakfast every day (to start your day right after your “fast” while sleeping).
- Exercising regularly (under your doctor’s care, of course).
- Trying to stay away from foods you crave by avoid anything that triggers the craving. This could be as simple as not going out to pubs with your colleagues after work — you know that alcohol isn’t good for baby, so ask your colleagues to meet at a coffee shop and order herbal teas.
- Get emotional support — from your husband, from your family, from your friends and colleagues.
- Train yourself to think small — if you crave one of the more harmless foods such as chocolate, try eating one square instead of an entire bar.
Click next for no-no foods to avoid.…
What to avoid
“Avoid foods that are at high risk of carrying the Listeria bacteria which can result in stillbirth, infections in the newborn or miscarriage,” advises Dr Chad Han Yixian, another council member of SNDA.
- Soft cheeses made with unpasteurised milk, which may contain E coli or listeria.
- Raw or undercooked eggs, which may contain salmonella.
- Certain fish such as shark and swordfish, which contain high levels of mercury.
- Raw or undercooked meat, shellfish or fish.
- Raw or undercooked sprouts.
- Liver, cod liver oils and vitamin supplements containing Vitamin A. The reason for this is that high levels of Vitamin A have been linked to birth defects in baby.
Other types of cravings you should not give in to are when you want non-food substances, such as dirt, ice, toothpaste, soap, and clay. Craving these is a condition is known as pica and may indicate certain nutrition deficiencies.
“If you crave eating dirt, ice, toothpaste, soap, and clay… [it] is known as pica and may indicate certain nutrition deficiencies.”
Giving in to your pica cravings could potentially harm both your child and you as the non-food substances may contain toxic or parasitic ingredients.
Dr Kalpana says, “Other possible problems of non-food cravings during pregnancy include [the possibility of] lead poisoning, bowel obstruction, parasite infection, dental injury, low birth weight, preterm labour and in extreme cases, stillbirth.”
If you are experiencing pica, don’t panic and just talk to your doctor.
Back to food cravings, we know they are hard to resist, and as long as it is not in the “avoid” list, it is fine to give in to them, as long as it is in moderation (small amounts, rarely) and they are generally healthy. Cravings for sugary and fattening foods can be managed with healthier substitutions.
For instance, healthier options for your cravings:
- Avocado chocolate mousse — avocado, coconut, cocoa powder, and dates.
- Coconut-butter balls — coconut butter, raw honey, raw oil and vanilla (these can be frozen for a cooling treat).
- Sweet potato with a pinch of cinnamon.
- Non-fat frozen yoghurt, low-fat ice cream, sherbet or sorbet instead of ice cream.
- Baked potato or tortilla chips instead of potato chips.
* 1 to 3 from Pooja Vig, 4 and 5 from Dr Kalpana.
The Singapore Nutrition & Dietetics Association counts as council members Chad Han Yixian, dietitian at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Health Services, and Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, media chair for the Association as well as the manager of Nutrition Research and head of the Glycemic Index Research Unit in Temasek Polytechnic.