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Why Moms‑to‑Be Have Pregnancy Cravings

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Jan 21, 2015

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Amid the complex biology of pregnancy, pregnancy cravings seem the most, well, magical. There’s no clear-cut scientific rationale for why you suddenly have an absolute, world-ending yen for jalebi at 2 a.m. And yet, according to a study published in the Indian Journal of Public Health, nearly half of all women experience these food cravings during pregnancy.

General consensus is: It matters less why you’re having food cravings during pregnancy; the mere fact of the craving may be enough. So, listen to your body – it’s likely telling you what it needs; many nutritionists believe that pregnancy cravings are triggered by a deficiency of an essential nutrient. At the same time, it’s possible that food cravings during pregnancy are merely a strong desire for mental gratification – that the taste is more important than the substance.

In my own pregnancy, I craved a treat from childhood – one I hadn’t indulged in for decades (and haven’t again since giving birth). On one or two occasions, when the food craving was intense, I stopped by a railway station and bought one from a food stall. (I was lucky to have no ill effects, though I strongly recommend pregnant women avoid street food, as it’s generally prepared in unhygienic conditions.) There is little to no nutritional value in the fried, corn flour-based confection I ate – clearly, my body was not longing for a specific nutrient. And yet, food cravings during pregnancy run the gamut; some women do desire healthy foods, which may indicate they need the nutrients contained in those foods.

Whether your food cravings are meant to satisfy a nutritional requirement or put a smile on your face – what’s the harm? Physical and mental well-being are equally important during your pregnancy. Assuming you were a normal weight prior to becoming pregnant, with no underlying conditions, feel free to indulge on occasion. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or are obese, however, try to consult with your doctor before satisfying any pregnancy cravings, especially if you’re craving fatty, fried, or sugary foods.

The reverse side of this is, of course, the slightly less common food aversion during pregnancy. Many women develop a strong antipathy to a specific food or smell – fish is a common one, which is unfortunate because it contains so many nutrients that pregnant women need. Pay attention to these pregnancy food aversions too – whether they make sense or not, it makes even less sense to torment yourself with distasteful food.

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Written By Ratnaraje Krishna Thar

Ratnaraje Krishna Thar, PhD, MSc. MPhil Foods Nutrition and Dietetics, is a nutritionist with a strong academic and research background, and twenty five years of experience in nutrition. She has presented research papers at national and international level, and has been active in community nutrition projects in Mumbai as well as rural and tribal areas of Maharashtra. She currently serves as faculty at Sophia Women’s Research Centre, a Nutritionist at Natural Health Centre for Better Health in Mumbai, a consultant with the Bay View Advisory Services Team and Shrimati Malati Dahanukar Trust, and handles clinical cases. She is currently working on developing a Nutrition app that will provide easy access to basic nutrition information.

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