The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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One moment you’re hankering for salty potato chips, and the next you’re tearing into a juicy orange. Rare steak has replaced your prepregnancy vegetarian suppers, and your in-laws now stock your favorite brand of chocolate chip ice cream. What explains a pregnant woman’s cravings?
Experts agree that impulses for certain foods stem from increased hormone production. A pregnant woman generates more than 30 different hormones, which in turn can lower her blood sugar (and lead to nausea), increase her metabolism (and lead to hunger), and sharpen her sense of smell and taste (which can trigger at various times morning sickness, food cravings or aversions).
Indeed, during the first trimester when hormones increase dramatically, many women seek foods to alleviate nausea. “In the beginning of each pregnancy, whenever I felt queasy, I craved white foods,” says Jessica Bennett, a mother of two in New York. “I ate bananas, chicken and ice cream. They made my stomach feel really good,” she says. “And milk—I can’t even describe how good it tasted going down.”
Miriam Erick, M.S., R.D., senior dietitian manager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and author of No More Morning Sickness (Plume, 1993), finds women with morning sickness (which, as you probably know, can occur any time of day) generally feel better when they nourish their bodies. “Often it’s a hunger or hydration issue,” she says, and goes on to explain that women crave crackers and potato chips because they’re dry and help eliminate excess saliva. “Watermelon is also popular because it’s sweet, crunchy, cold and wet,” she adds. Since many women go to such lengths to satisfy a particular craving, one has to wonder if some of these impulses for certain foods signal nutritional deficiencies. According to Erick, however, cravings have not been studied enough to determine their cause.
“Even when I was sick,” testifies Kyra Kuhn, a new mother in California, “I craved fresh apples. They were crisp and hydrating,” she says. “I also ate potato chips. I knew they were fattening, but I craved the salt. Besides that, I also ate a lot of rice pudding because it was creamy, smooth and easy to eat.”
Throughout the second and third trimesters, when nausea often dissipates, many women desire foods to satisfy cravings for specific tastes. Erick has found that fruits such as apples, oranges and lemons are the most-often craved foods, followed by pickled items, raw cereals, spices, licorice and tomatoes. Traditionally, cheese and kippers also ranked high, especially among European women.
For many expectant mothers, the hunt for a particular taste becomes an obsession. “Near the end of my pregnancy, I had a serious citrus craving,” says Sarah Moore, a San Francisco advertising executive. “I would eat three or more oranges a day. And, if I didn’t have any oranges, I would drink a fruit smoothie, driving ridiculous distances across the city just to buy one.”
For most of us, however, the object of desire usually is a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream, and concerns over fat and calories fall by the wayside. Keeping nutritious snacks handy, however, might help divert your attention from those choices. Select whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein whenever possible, and stock up on fruits and vegetables. To limit fat calories, use low-fat cooking techniques, such as roasting or steaming.
If you’re stumped as to what to prepare, take a look at the following recipes. Crunchy maple granola may be the perfect snack to turn to when your blood sugar dips.