Considering Cravings

One of the most mythic aspects of pregnancy that nearly everyone talks about, or has a story or two about are the odd food cravings that women go through. Since it is something that is happening to me on a daily basis, I felt the need to talk about it, because, for one thing, I find it fascinating that no one is really sure what causes the intensity of the food longings that women get during pregnancy.

One explanation that is given is that the body lacks something as the child grows, and so the woman’s body triggers a hunger in her for a food that contains the missing nutrient(s). It is a sensible enough supposition, this explanation, and is usually the one that I myself will give for my sudden, uncontrollable desire for whatever food has taken my fancy.

There is nothing wrong with that explanation, per se, mind you, except when you take into account that some unlucky few women have intense cravings guiding them to eat dirt, powdered laundry detergent or sand. One could blithely say that these women are severely malnourished and obviously lack an essential mineral or two that can be found in the inedible item of choice, but that seems to me like cravings gone awry.

Which leads me to the other guidance system that may be at work when it comes to cravings: hormones.

Now, pregnant women get really weary of hearing about hormones, because it seems as though they are at fault for everything in the pregnant woman’s world. Have hot flashes? Hormones are the cause. Your breasts hurt? Hormones are at work. Falling prey to sudden intense fits of rage or worse, sobbing fits that come from nowhere? Hormones again.

In fact, a pregnant woman can easily come to the conclusion that hormones are the root of all the weirdness that invades her world.

And, really, it pretty much is true. So why couldn’t cravings be some byproduct of the ocean of hormones that a woman’s metabolism is steeped in during pregnancy? It seems just as logical as some sort of nutritive lack, and really, the answer may be a combination of the two–the woman lacks a nutrient and so the hormones get to work and make cravings. (They way that hormones work is a complex set of chemical reactions and interactions–and really, the amount that is known about how exactly women’s hormones work is miniscule–our body chemistry is just that complex. I know that it is complex, but sometimes, I have to admit to visualizing the hormones as these black-leather clad little molecules with whips, going about my body, shouting orders and wreaking havoc. So, I have a weird imagination. It’s probably the fault of some hormone or another….)

The other interesting thing about cravings is that they happen to most women during pregnancy, most to the point that I should probably say all, but then some woman who had a perfect pregnancy and sailed through with no side effects or complications would probably post and say, “Oh, I never had one of those.”

And they are different, not only with every woman, but in each different pregnancy.

Which leads women to making assumptions about the baby they are carrying.

For example, when I was pregnant with Morganna, I craved two things continually: cheese, and Huy’s garlic sauce. The cheese I explained away as a need for calcium, and the garlic sauce–which I always said I would eat on whatever Chef Huy felt like putting it on, including an old shoe or a dead rat–well, I never could figure why my liking for it became an obsession when I was pregnant.

Later, however, I decided that I was carrying a kid who really liked cheese and garlic.

And, sure enough, when Morganna was allowed to eat cow-milk based foods–she gravitated over to cheese immediately, and never looked back. And when she was about two, there was the incident where she grabbed a head of garlic out of a bin at a local Middle Eastern grocery store and amused the owner by nearly sticking it up her nose. She loudly inhaled, sighed and said, “Darlic! Mmmm. Darlic! Mordanna love darlic.” (She had problems with the “g” sound at the time, obviously.)

So what am I craving now?

Vegetables. Many of which are not in season yet, but my body really doesn’t much care about that. It still wants tomatoes. And eggplants. Squash, sweet potatoes, and beans. Avocados. Greens–especially kale and collards, but also gai lan, choi sum, bok choi and chard. Fermented vegetables are great, too–kim chee is fast becoming an obsession again. (That was the case for the last pregnancy, the one that ended in a miscarriage.)

Tofu and miso and edamame and other soy products are also appealing strongly to me these days, but even more so–I have been wanting beans and corn.

I guess it is because I am having aversions to meat, that I am seeking so much vegetable protein. Though, every day, I eat a little bit of meat, just nowhere nearly as much as I normally would, and I am still having issues eating beef much at all. I did eat a hot dog yesterday–a great handmade all beef frank in a natural casing that snapped under my teeth, with spicy mustard, onions, chili sauce and slaw on top. It was great, though what I loved the best was the slaw. It was not too sweet–I hate sugary slaw, but it wasn’t all mayonnaisey and slimy, either. I hate gloppy slaw. But it was lightly salty, a little sweet, kind of tart, very cabbagey with just enough mayo to hold it all together.

Go figure. I eat a hotdog and rave about the damned slaw.

I am beginning to believe that this kid that I am carrying was a Buddhist monk in his last life and just doesn’t want to give up on the veggies.

Zak thinks otherwise.

He is of the opinion that once the kid is out, and no longer breastfeeding or being spoon-fed, that it’ll become a junk-food junkie, just as a reaction against all the healthy stuff I fed it from the time it was a blastocyst.

Oh, well. If that is the case, at least I know I -tried-.

But be that as it may–I am finding these cravings to be fascinating and find myself wondering what other women crave? And what do they abhor–because the darker side of the food cravings, the shadow, are the food aversions. With me, I am finding that while I don’t reject sweets totally, I am finding it easier to ignore them than when I am not pregnant. And, of course, there is my inability to eat much in the way of meat.

But what of everyone else? What do other women crave and avoid?

And are these cravings culturally bound, or not?


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  1. my pregnancy cravings were mostly of the seafood and spicy kind. lobster, sushi (i didn’t know about the warnings back then). for some reason with my 3rd child i craved pizza and Chinese chicken wings ALL THE TIME, and guess what. he’s my kid who misses pizza the most, now that he has to stay away from it:( … and i can NOT have cilantro when i’m pregnant. just UGH. i don’t know if it’s culturally bound, but in the philippines, most women ask for something sour when pregnant, like green mangoes dipped in shrimp paste, or pumelo. maybe it’s also what’s available? i didn’t ask for those things because i knew they weren’t accessible anyway. hmmm…

    Comment by stef — April 28, 2006 #

  2. I don’t remember cravings, but I remember a complete inability to eat any kind of sugar except cane sugar and fruit sugar. Anything with corn sweeteners or corn oil in it made me violently ill, and this continued for some years after.

    Comment by Azalais Malfoy — April 28, 2006 #

  3. I’ve never been pregnant, but when my mother was pregnant with me, she hated the smell of coffee. Both me and my mother are huge coffee drinkers, though. One thing that did line up is that she couldn’t stand the smell of rockmelon (cantaloupe over there) and neither can I.

    Comment by Stephanie — April 29, 2006 #

  4. I wanted to eat breakfast foods all the time-eggs bacon, homefries, fat sausages, English breakfast things like mushrooms and black pudding, pancakes-even oatmeal and granola…especially in the evening.Just to think of it now makes me feel leaden.

    Comment by lindy — April 29, 2006 #

  5. Initially, I craved beef, which was incredibly strange since I am not a big beef eater by any stretch of the imagination.

    I ate a ton of salads, everyday for lunch I had a huge salad full of a variety of greens, legumes and vegetables.

    The last two months for breakfast, I ate a piping hot bowl of Cream of Wheat for breakfast.

    The last month or so, I couldn’t get enough of *shudder* McDonald’s ice cream cones. I’d have one per day, it was insanity.

    Generally I eat more Asian and Indian food, which continued (spicy food was the only thing that didn’t give me heartburn, strangely enough.

    My boy is just on the cusp of 7-months old, so I can’t really say what type of effect my food cravings have had on him. However, he’s already had Indian food, Japanese food, Mexican food, Middle Eastern food and of course American food. He hates bland food and refuses to eat plain Oatmeal cereal and eats his pears, apples and/or bananas with cinnamon. He loves roasted carrots with ginger and loves very tart recipes as well.

    He’ll pretty much eat anything that has seasoning and balks at anything jarred or not seasoned properly.

    Comment by Jenn — April 29, 2006 #

  6. A couple of comments…

    Frivolous first. A friend of mine craved Szechuan string beans in her first pregnancy and her child was in the 99 percentile for height and 10 percentile for weight (and still is). Second pregnancy, she craved mattar paneer, and the second child is much rounder. It is to smile.

    Secondly, and more seriously, her OB told her that food cravings are your body telling you _something_ is important about that food or food components. It can be something you need _or_ something you are sensitive/allergic/over-full of. So, listen to the cravings, but don’t bow to them blindly.

    Comment by LisaJulie — April 29, 2006 #

  7. My mother grew up in China and lived on all the sorts of food one associates with Southern China, but when she was pregnant with me, living here in Australia, she had massive cravings for ham and pineapple pizza, which we always thought was a bit weird.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 30, 2006 #

  8. When I was pregnant, I craved spicy food all the time – espcially Indian and Mexican. Also, I could not stand the smell of chicken. My daughter still loves spicy food at 15 but I’ve never heard a peep about hating poultry – I guess the aversions don’t carry over!

    Comment by Rosie — April 30, 2006 #

  9. It is really interesting to see whe variety of foods that women have craved over the years in pregnancy.

    About the obgyn’s opinion that there is something “important” about the food–that is supposition. There really is very little research into the cravings issue–in large part because it is such an individualized thing, that there is no really good way to set up a double-blind experimental model in order to test any one hypothesis regarding the cause or meaning of food cravings in pregnancy.

    So, just about everything I have read on the subject–and I have read a lot, including ob/gyn textbooks for med students–is theory, supposition, and opinion. Facts are thin on the ground, with the only established truths being that many to most women experience strong food preferences, aversions and cravings during pregnancy. As to why?

    No one really knows.

    But it is fun to share stories and make guesses as to why we crave what we crave and why we suddenly dislike what we dislike.

    Me–I am still into the beans, vegetables (raw and cooked), grains and dairy foods. Zak gave me a bite of his bacon from his breakfast this morning, and I ate it. It was good–it tasted really good–but I didn’t want anymore than what I had. (That is really unusual for me–bacon is a weakness of mine.) Just a couple of bites, and I was done, and I went back to eating my bean, guacamole, lettuce and roasted tomato salsa burrito, perfectly satisfied with just the taste of the bacon.

    It is really weird.

    Oh, and spicy foods–I am still eating chile-laden things. I love the hot stuff and that love has not abated in the slightest.

    Comment by Barbara — May 1, 2006 #

  10. I didn’t have a lot of cravings during pregnancy, but on a couple occasions I desperately wanted a nice slice of rare prime rib. Aversions, on the other hand, I had plenty of for the first five months — and they were all aversions to “healthy” foods. Whole wheat anything? Gag. Yogurt? Bleah. Most vegetables? Yuck.

    Post-pregnancy, I went off caffeine when I was first nursing; six months later, I decided it was time to start drinking tea again when we were in a restaurant, a waiter walked by with a glass of ice tea, and I had to sit on my hands to keep from grabbing it off the tray.

    Comment by Castiron — May 1, 2006 #

  11. With my first son I craved coke with crushed ice, usually from our neighborhood Dairy Queen. I would still drink it everyday if someone would tell me it was good for me.
    With my second son it was sweet pickles. I could even wait to get home to eat them as I left the grocery store and my car soon had the aroma of them. I still love them too. Would you believe they don’t have them in France? Very strange. I found a recipe on how to make dill pickles into sweet pickles which I must try.

    Comment by Linda — May 2, 2006 #

  12. My cravings were pretty mild and mostly healthy: I drank a lot of home made lemonade and lentils and green leafy vegetables. The really tough ones, though were just my natural contrariness in wanting all the foods I couldn’t have: oysters, soft cheeses, blue cheeses, steak tartare, sushi…could not WAIT for the baby to arrive so I could eat them all. And when he did…nyeh, wasn’t all that interested after all!

    And as for pickles…my dear husband interpreted a wish for a command when he was in the US and brought back a huge bar of Vlassic kosher baby dills for me – heaven! I managed to make the jar last about a month. With difficulty. But never with ice cream. (Though I liked that too!)

    Haven’t seen any of these tendencies come out in the boy, but it’s early days. Some days he loves everything and some days he loves nothing. Which is, I guess, a bit like a pregnant woman!! : )

    Comment by Meg — May 2, 2006 #

  13. Castiron–I can only imagine the burning look in your eyes when you sighted that tea! Good thing the waiter didn’t see you–he may have run away otherwise! (I know how it is to want something badly–I am that way with raw salmon, which I am not having right now. ARGH!)

    Linda–I am odd. I really dislike sweet pickles and always have, but I will eat the heck out of a big ole garlicky kosher dill. Though, now that I am pregnant, I prefer pickled ginger.

    Meg–I know what you mean! I want sushi! Dammit. Damned mercury, and damned parasites! GRRRR!

    I actually have found some new research that I will include in another post on the subject, soon. Interesting stuff!

    Comment by Barbara — May 2, 2006 #

  14. I haven’t had any *desperate* cravings or aversions during this pregnancy (my first, now nearly 8 months along), but the milder ones do not suggest that cravings are a body’s way of demanding what it needs. I, too, have felt drawn to breakfast foods at every time of day, which means more fat and starch than anybody really needs. I’m also have difficulty limitting my chocolate intake, which may be my body’s way of demanding to be spoiled with something forbidden. I’m surprised that I don’t have a stronger yearning for the beloved soft cheese and sushi that I’m currently avoiding; instead, I really want a drink. Pre-pregnancy, I was a very casual drinker, cooking with alcohol more than drinking it straight, but a wiff of the communion wine at church is enough to make me want to run home and raid the liquor cabinet.

    Chicken became revolting to me midway through the first trimester, but with the third trimester, I seem to be able to stomach it again. Since I am not a regular meat-eater, I had assumed that pregnancy would turn me into a red meat fiend (it happens to so many people, it seems), but it hasn’t turned me into any kind of meat fiend. Even vegetables seem to be sparse on my plate, probably because of the seasonal unavailability more than anything, but perhaps because of the effort required to wash and chop them, too. I hope the baby’s dietary proclivities won’t reflect mine during his gestation, since I seem to be having much more difficulty eating a healthy variety of foods than I did before I was pregnant!

    Comment by mdvlist — May 5, 2006 #

  15. My sister has the theory that if you have a craving for meat/peanut butter/foo with tons of protein that you will have a boy and if you crave fruit you will have a girl. I have polled many of my friends and relatives and so far it is 100% correct! I am just curious as to what others think and if this theory holds true for you?

    Comment by Lynn — May 5, 2006 #

  16. Sorry, I meant “food with tons of protein” in my above comment!

    Comment by Lynn — May 5, 2006 #

  17. Strawberries, strawberries, strawberries. Have never eaten them before, am 8 months pregnant and eating them obsessively and drinking a litre a day of strawberry juice. I wake up on the hour through-out the night with an obsessive craving for strawberry juice and glug down a glass every hour! If I run out I get intensely irritated and feel a thirst that nothing else but strawberry juice will save. It’s so strong, it’s overwhelming. I’m having a girl by the by, another case for the fruit craving is a girl theory! ?

    Comment by Debbie — May 11, 2006 #

  18. Barbara,
    I’ve been reading your blog for the last month or so and I love it. I got the link from the forum on Taunton Press.
    I was pregnant with my son along time ago so I don’t remember if I had an aversion to anything. But, I do remember having a craving for dill pickles which I used to abhor. I like them still but don’t go out of my way. I also graved pizza with the usual mozzarella. But, I can’t stand melted mozzarella now. And I craved roast beef. I am normally not fond of beef.
    Anyway, those are three of the foods that my son is most fond of.
    I do think that cravings are based on a need for specific nurtrients whether pregnant or not. And if that is true then I think that the bodies cravings would be translated in the mind to a food that is familiar. ie. a lifetime vegetarian would probably not crave a steak when in need of protien.
    Thanks again for the great blog. I appreciate your attitude. You sound like you have a big heart, but you don’t take any crap.

    Comment by Julie — September 27, 2006 #

  19. I think it is true I craved salty and sour foods when i was pregnant with my three sons.

    Comment by getrude — January 29, 2008 #

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