Craving a certain food during pregnancy—an iron-rich, juicy burger, say—means your body needs the particular nutrients it contains, right? Not necessarily. "There's really not a lot of scientific backup for such statements," says Linda R. Chambliss, M.D., medical director of labor and delivery at St. Mary's Hospital in St. Louis. "A lot of women are iron-depleted during pregnancy, but it's hard to show a cause-and-effect relationship between a craving and the lack of a specific nutrient."
The fact is, regardless of what doctors say, this long-held belief makes it easy to justify indulging every food whim. "Women feel like, 'I'm pregnant, and that's what I want,' " says Gayle Reichler, M.S., R.D., the author of Gayle's Feel Good Foods (Avery) and a nutritionist in private practice in Westchester, N.Y. "You're tired and cranky and feel you deserve a treat." The result can be an unbalanced diet with more calories than your body needs.
The key, Reichler says, is to turn a craving into an opportunity to get the nutrients your body needs. Here we've created five delicious and healthful recipes designed to help you satisfy the most common pregnancy cravings: red meat, comfort food, tart tastes, salty snacks and something sweet.
Craving: Something Sweet
Food Fix: Banana-Chocolate Milk Shake
Craving: Red Meat
Food Fix: Big, Fat, Juicy Cheeseburger
Craving: Tart Tastes
Food Fix: Chicken Spinach Salad with Apple Dijon Vinaigrette
Craving: Salty Snacks
Food Fix: Chickpea "Chips"
Craving: Comfort Food
Food Fix: Two-Potato Mash
A Dangerous Craving
Some pregnant women experience pica, a condition that makes them crave nonfood items such as dirt, paint chips, laundry starch and other indigestible items. Doctors aren't sure why this happens, according to Linda R. Chambliss, M.D.; what is certain is that giving in to it is dangerous. Eating dirt can block the absorption of nutrients, but more seriously, the dirt may be contaminated with industrial waste or microorganisms.
Ingesting other nonfood items such as paint chips (which could contain lead) can be highly toxic or even fatal. Try eating ice chips to satisfy any nonfood cravings. And, if you do experience pica, don't be ashamed to tell your doctor or midwife about your unusual craving. She should know right away so that she can address any deficiencies appropriately.
What's Your Craving?
The biggest hamburger with horseradish sauce I could find.
— Laura Gardner, COLVILLE, WASH.
Beef jerky and pickled vegetables.
— Johanna Ocasio-Heil, GROTON, CT.
Salt and vinegar potato chips chased by chocolate milk. My husband could not watch me eat this!
— Therese Kastelic Roeser, WATERTOWN, MASS.
Tomatoes, vinegar and Chinese dumplings.
— Leayah Chang, DANVILLE, CALIF.
I am not a big vegetable eater, but I started craving cucumbers with Italian dressing even before I knew I was pregnant.
— Amy Bailey, LAS VEGAS
Rice Krispie Treats and cheeseburgers.
— Kathryn Defosse, GREENSBORO, N.C.