It’s 3am and you’re awake. All you can think of is that tub of chocolate ice cream in your refrigerator. Or is it that packet of chips? Or both! This may seem odd to most, but is a familiar feeling for mums-to-be. Statistics say, more than 3/4 of all women experience food cravings at some point in their pregnancy, usually in the first trimester! The most commonly reported cravings are for sweets (chocolate, cake, Arabic sweets), dairy products (especially cheese and labneh) and salty foods (chips, crackers, salted nuts, etc.), and often in peculiar combinations such as a spoon of labneh with a slice of chocolate cake, sugar sprinkled on cucumber pickles... etc.
Not surprisingly, many women prefer to keep their cravings to themselves, rather than report them! Yet this is not unusual and quite natural, say experts. But what causes perfectly normal, calorie-conscious women to suddenly give in to these culinary cravings? Is it physiological? Experts believe that cravings are a result of the body's dramatically changing hormones. The hormonal factor is compounded by a pregnant women's more acute sense of taste and smell which drive her away from some foods and compel her, hysterically, to another! Is it nutritional? Another popular theory is that the craving may be nutritionally based.
For instance, craving salty foods may be because your body needs more sodium as your blood volume increases. Or in case of fluid shortage, your body will try and compensate by craving for salty foods which when eaten will increase your thirst and desire for water. Conversely, sweet cravings might indicate low blood sugar or fatigue. Should you give in to your cravings? Yes! At least some of the time. And since these cravings usually stop by the end of the first trimester, we suggest you give in to them wisely, especially if it’ll make you happier! But bear in mind that consuming large quantities of the food you crave for, whether sweet or salty, might lead to unwanted problems such as hypertension and gestational diabetes, especially in the second and third trimester. So, how should you handle salt and sweet cravings?
- Start your day right with a good breakfast. Make sure your breakfast contains sufficient complex carbohydrates to prevent hunger-triggered cravings later in the day. For example: 2 slices of whole wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of labneh or a bowl of low-fat milk and whole-wheat breakfast cereals.
- Eat your meals at regular intervals. Ideally 3 healthy meals and 2 snacks. This will keep your blood sugar levels stable.
- Choose healthier substitutes for the food you are craving for:
|FOR YOUR SWEET CRAVING:
|FOR YOUR SALT CRAVING:
|Choose lower fat and sugar options:
|Choose lower salt options:
|Chocolate cake with icing
|Sponge cake, a mug of hot chocolate made with a full glass of skimmed milk
|Crisps and chips
|Natural baked potato chips, air popped popcorn, rice cakes
|A chocolate bar
|1/2 chocolate bar, chocolate wafer, fruit bars or cereal bars
|Dried fruits and nuts
|Rice cakes, kaak or bread crumbs with thyme (zaatar) and a bit of olive oil
|Unsweetened fresh juice
|Bread sticks or sesame coated sticks
- Try to counteract your salt craving with something sour. So, try low fat yogurt or labneh with a pinch of sumac or fresh salad with extra lemon juice. Alternatively cut cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes and combine it with labneh dip, or go for a yogurt and cucumber salad with a pinch of dried mint.
- Limit your portions, if you cannot resist. Have a small packet of baked chips instead of family pack! Or a thin slice of your favorite chocolate cake, instead of a chunky piece.
Whatever you do, remember that the food craving is common in pregnant women and can be indulged in, as long as you do it wisely. Also bear in mind that there are nutritious choices for just about every food you crave for – from salt to sweet, starchy to crunchy, hot or cold. And with little creativity and some willpower you may often be able to find wholesome substitutes that truly satisfy both body and soul. Do it frequently and you may be surprised to find your cravings being regulated! Remember, you can always check with your dietician about healthy food options that can satisfy your palate while being healthy for you and your baby. Watch out for foods you shouldn’t eat during pregnancy!