From seaweed to Guinness: your pregnancy cravings explained

Pregnancy cravings affect 90% of mums-to-be. Some are normal and some are a bit more unusual!
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  • Feel like scoffing a whole jar of gherkins or even eating soil? You're not alone, pregnant women can get all sorts of weird and wonderful pregnancy cravings.

    Unusual pregnancy cravings are a typical pregnancy symptom,  and many experts believe we get these pregnancy cravings for odd tastes and smells because we’re lacking, or trying to build up, particular vitamins and nutrients in our blood in order to keep the baby safe in the womb.

    Research published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal concluded that the reason behind our cravings can’t be tied to just one cause, instead, there may be many factors influencing our desire for a cheeseburger or an entire tub of ice cream, such as pregnancy hormones which can trigger food cravings and aversions, and purely biological reasons – your pregnant body is naturally going to need a higher calorie intake- you’re growing another life afterall!

    Some people think that certain pregnancy cravings can suggest that you’re expecting a boy or a girl, where as some people think this is just a pregnancy myth.

    We’ve taken a look at the top pregnancy cravings women can’t get enough of and the reasons behind them.

    MORE: 10 pregnancy myths you’ve always wanted the answer to

    Do you recognise any of these?

    Pregnancy cravings list

    These are some of the most common pregnancy cravings…

    • Seaweed
    • Red meat
    • Curry
    • Pickles
    • Dairy
    • Coal
    • Guinness
    • Chorizo
    • Broccoli
    • Peaches
    • Pears
    • Toothpaste
    • Chocolate
    • Baking Soda

    Pregnancy cravings meaning

    The craving: Seaweed

    The reason? Low on iodine

    Seaweed may seem like an unusual one, but many pregnant women have started to say they are craving it. This could be to do with a lack of iodine in the body. Seaweed is high in iodine, therefore can be a good source of this important nutrient during pregnancy – providing the levels needed for healthy fetal development. Seaweed also contains B12 which is crucial for vegetarians as it is one of the few non-animals sources of this nutrient. Edible seaweed includes green, red and brown seaweed, brown seaweed is extremely high in iodine however – so pregnant women should be cautious about eating too much of this version. ‘Limiting to moderate amounts is advisable ie 220 micrograms daily so not to intake iodine in harmful volumes,’ says midwife and founder of hypnobirthing and pregnancy yoga company, GlowMummy

    The craving: Red meat

    The reason? Blood cell growth

    A lot of women have cravings for red meat while they’re pregnant. Red meat has high levels of the vitamin B6 and iron, which is important in the red blood cell formation of the baby.  Iron is also a vital component for making haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells. During pregnancy, blood volume increases by almost 50% , so it’s even more essential to increase iron stores to ensure oxygen is transported efficiently around the body. Low iron levels can also lead to anaemia, a condition that affects up to 24.4% of UK mums-to-be.

    Homeopaths suggest eating 3 to 4 2x2cm sized cubes of steak or pork every morning to speed up the level of blood cells being made. A great excuse for a bacon buttie!

    The craving: Curry

    The reason? Changing palates

    During pregnancy many women experience changes of tastes and curry is a common craving. Women’s fancy for a spicy curry could also be to do with our common association of it as a comfort food, or even its reputation to bring on labour! If you’re worried about gaining additional pounds during pregnancy, opt for vegetable curries like dhal or chickpea curry served with plain rice as these will be easier on your digestive system and lower in fat.

    The craving: Pickles

    The reason? Low salt levels

    A craving for pickles is very normal in pregnant women so don’t worry if you’re reaching for the gherkins at 3 o’clock in the morning! This craving is usually because of low salt levels in the blood of the pregnant woman. Salt holds water in the body and is really important in keeping the fluids running from mother to the baby. Green Spanish olives are a particularly good way to satisfy your need for salt.

    The craving: Dairy (ice cream and yogurt)

    The reason? Low levels of calcium

    One of the most common pregnancy cravings is ice cream– in fact 50% of women say this is their main craving! When the baby is growing inside you it needs high levels of calcium to stay healthy and a lot of women can’t stomach milk and cheese during pregnancy. As a result, ice cream becomes a great way of getting calcium into the body. During pregnancy, your core body temperature can naturally make you feel hotter than usual, and by the time you go into labour,  you’ll have gained around 12.5kg which can make you sweat more than normal – so it’s no surprise you’re craving something cold and refreshing!

    Some women find foods containing calcium so hard to eat during pregnancy that they end up taking Vitamin D or calcium tablets.

    The craving: Coal, mud, matches, Guinness and dust!

    The problem: Lack of iron

    Most of you will have heard of craving coal and possibly the smell of matches, but it might surprise you that some women actually eat dust during pregnancy. This is because dust is full of iron-rich minerals.

    During pregnancy, high iron levels in your blood often drop. ‘Guinness, although iron rich, is not as high as in other foods and it is better not to drink large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy,’ says Sharon. Mud, matches and even chalk are all high in iron but you can give your body what it’s craving through tastier alternatives which will also be better for you such as fish- especially clams, oysters and mussels, lean red meat and spinach.

    The craving: Chorizo (or chorizo jam!)

    The reason? Salt deficiency

    Research carried out for Virgin Trains revealed that chorizo and chorizo jam has crept into the top 20 foods more commonly craved during pregnancy. There are some theories that women crave salt during pregnancy because you need your body to retain more water. Salt helps you retain fluids, so salty food like chorizo could help. ‘It’s best to eat cold if packaging says it is cooked,’ says Sharon.

    The craving: Broccoli, peaches and pears

    The problem: Low folic acid levels

    During pregnancy, the desire for vegetables, particularly broccoli, and sugary fruit is often because of low folic acid levels. Folic acid can reduce the risk of having a baby with a serious birth defect of the brain and spinal cord, so the pregnant body needs to keep very well loaded up – lots of pregnant mums take a folic acid tablet every day. ‘Broccoli is also rich in vitamin A,C,K,B6, calcium, and fibre,’ says Sharon. ‘Vitamin C will help to ensure good iron levels, whilst the calcium will promote strong bones, and fibre will help prevent constipation during pregnancy.’ A combination of these vitamins will help protect the skin and eyes.

    ‘Eating peaches and pears will boost your intake of vitamins A, C, B6, folic acid, potassium, copper, magnesium, fibre,’ says Sharon. The vitamin C in peaches is crucial for the proper development of the foetus; helping with the proper formation and growth of bones, teeth, and other vital tissues. Research has found that low potassium levels in pregnancy can lead to weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps and constipation, hypokalemic periodic paralysis- this causes occasional bouts of muscle weakness in the legs, arms, and eyes and cardiac dysrhythmia, an abnormal rhythm of the heartbeat that may cause cardiac arrest. Other foods rich in potassium include chicken, salmon, plain yogurt and spinach.

    The craving: Toothpaste and sponges

    The reason? Baby blues

    We all know that emotions and food are closely linked and this doesn’t change when you’re pregnant! A mum-to-be may crave a special food or object that reminds them of their childhood, for emotional reasons.

    Women who crave non-food items like coal during pregnancy could be suffering from a condition called Pica. The name Pica comes from the Latin word Magpie, a bird known to eat nearly anything. This is the name used to describe cravings to eat household items such as toothpaste, laundry detergent, and even cigarette butts.

    The craving: Chocolate

    The reason? Low vitamin B levels

    Some experts believe that a craving for chocolate may be because of a shortage of B vitamins – these help control your metabolism. Chocolate is full of B vitamins and some women may need more essential fatty acids, like chocolate, in their diet.

    ‘Eating dark chocolate can help you produce dopamine and serotonin to give a feeling of relaxation and lift your mood, as well as help manage stress,’ says Sharon. ‘As it contains iron, it can also boost the immune system.’ 

    Dark chocolate is also full of antioxidants. Research shows that a lack of antioxidants in your body during pregnancy can cause exaggerated oxidate stress within the placenta and the maternal circulation, which could result in preeclampsia and miscarriage.

    The recommended daily intake is approximately 28g- that’s roughly 2 squares of dark chocolate! If you’re worried about calories, studies have shown that women get the same goodness that chocolate provides with flax seed oil, even though it isn’t as tasty!

    The craving: Baking Soda and laundry soap

    The reason? Digestive discomfort

    Some cravings come from the simple bodily instinct to fight off all pregnancy symptoms. Morning sickness may be the reason for Pica cravings such as the desire to eat baking soda and fabric detergent, because they are well known for being able to fight off dodgy tummy aches and pains.

    Difference types of Pica: 

    • Geophagia (mud and clay): ‘This could be instinctual response to blocking toxins and pathogens,’ says Sharon. It is also iron- rich. However, there is little evidence on this. ‘It is easily digestible though and most women will eat will eat clean, fresh earth from the subsurface of the ground, pathogens tend to be found higher up in topsoil,’ says Sharon.
    • Amylophagia – This is the consumption of starch and paste.
    • Cautopyreiophagia- This is the craving for burnt matches, cigarettes and cigarette ashes.

    Be warned: Pica isn’t good for you. As the American Pregnancy Association says, ‘Eating non-food substances is potentially harmful to both you and your baby… The most important thing is to inform your health care provider.’

    So, basically, don’t give in and talk to your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.

    How to handle pregnancy cravings

    Your body is clever. ‘It will steer you away from things that could be harmful to your pregnancy,
    including excess caffeine, and instead make you crave for things that are good for you, or you are
    deficient in,’ says Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife.

    ‘Cravings tend to peak during your first trimester, which coincides with when you may be feeling
    nauseous or have gone off many foods.’ It’s important to listen to your body and follow its cues. If your cravings are not so healthy, you can still satisfy them. ‘For example, cravings for salty food can be appeased by having a mixture of roasted vegetables with some salt and herbs, while sweet cravings can be satisfied by eating sweet fruits, dates or a bit of dark chocolate,’ says Lesley. ‘It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods throughout your pregnancy so that your baby has access to the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal development and growth.’

    Try as much as possible to stick to a healthy, balanced diet and include foods high in iron to help prevent anaemia and the need for iron supplements. Foods rich in iron include red meat, oily fish and eggs, as well as wholemeal bread, lentils and leafy green vegetables.

    Here are some healthy alternatives to pregnancy cravings that we’ve rustled up

    • Ice cream

    Opt for low-fat frozen yogurt. You can get this from all large supermarkets and it comes in lots of great flavours, which will meet your calcium needs without the added calorie count.

    • Chocolate

    Swap a chunk of dairy milk for a non-fat chocolate syrup drizzled on top of some fresh fruit.

    • Salty snacks

    Opt for salted popcorn or Italian breadsticks with low-fat houmous.

    • Eat breakfast!

    Making sure you have a healthy breakfast such as porridge and herbal tea can cut your cravings by up to 50%.

    Pregnancy cravings and gender

    While there are myths and old wives tales that suggest that particular pregnancy cravings may point towards the possible gender of your baby (for example, according to Chinese myth if you crave sweet foods you’re having a boy and if you’re craving sour foods you’re having a girl), there’s not actually any evidence to point towards this.

    So don’t go painting that nursery just yet!