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What Do Your Pregnancy Cravings REALLY Mean?

There’s a bit of a disagreement over whether pregnancy cravings have deeper meanings than hormonal mood swings, but it depends on which expert you ask.

On one side, some doctors and scientists say that a craving is your body telling you that it’s lacking some kind of nutrient. On the other, experts say that there isn’t enough significant research to support that idea — and if that were true, wouldn’t our bodies crave spinach rather than Oreos? And some — like our own witty Devan — say that it has more to do with our personalities than biological needs.

Yet, regardless of the nay-sayers, there have been studies, scientists and doctors that stand behind the idea that certain cravings are trying to tell us something. Let’s look at what some of your cravings might mean, and healthier alternatives to satisfy those urges:

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  • Fruits 1 of 8
    Fruits

    What the experts say: Dr. Janet Pope, an expert on nutrition and dietetics from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, told Parents.com that fruit is among the most common pregnancy cravings (along with dairy products, chocolate, and salty snacks). Pope says that a craving for fruit could indicate a need for more vitamin C.

    There are also a slew of other reasons your body might be craving fruit — such as the pectin in apples that lowers cholesterol, the vitamin A and potassium in melons, and the beta carotene in peaches.

    What I say: I craved things like pineapple, apples and watermelon during my pregnancy, and I found that it was usually when I was a little dehydrated.

    Try eating: fruit! This is a pregnancy craving to definitely give into. Also make sure to keep drinking water.

    Flickr/Chiot's Run

  • Salty 2 of 8
    Salty

    What the experts say: Salty snacks are an incredibly popular pregnancy craving (hence pickles). According to a study conducted at the School of Allied Health at the University of Connecticut-Storrs, pregnant women typically have an increased preference for salty foods as their pregnancies progress — quite possibly because their increased blood volume has them hankering for more sodium.

    What I say: Keep in mind that high levels of sodium can lead to more swelling — which is the last thing that a pregnant woman wants, especially during a summer pregnancy. Make sure to keep flushing your body with plenty of water.

    Try eating: salty foods that also have other nutrients, like pickles and vegetable soup, rather than empty, over-processed calories like potato chips and bacon.

    Photo: Flickr/roboppy

  • Sour 3 of 8
    Sour

    What the experts say: That same study found that pregnant women tend to prefer sour tastes more in the second and third trimesters, possibly because it encourages a more diverse diet for more calories. The acid in sour foods can also help with calcium absorption, bone growth, and blood production.

    What I say: Sour foods span the spectrum of nutrients and vitamins — such as vitamin C in orange juice and grapefruits, lactic acid in pickles, and calcium in Greek yogurt.

    Try eating: a range of fruits — from green apples to plums. Also try adding vinegar to your sandwiches and dishes.

    Photo: Flickr/simpologist

  • Sweet 4 of 8
    Sweet

    What the experts say: Chocolate is a popular pregnancy craving, and San Francisco midwife and herbalist Cynthia Belew told Babycenter.com that a chocolate craving might mean a shortage of magnesium. Other experts think that a craving for sweets might indicate a need for more calories during pregnancy, or that it indicates a drop in blood sugar.

    What I say: Never apologize for indulging in a little antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.

    Try eating: more whole grains, seeds, beans, nuts, and green vegetables — healthier sources of magnesium — and see if that curbs the cravings. Also try eating smaller, more frequent meals to prevent your blood sugar from dropping. And if you really just want a treat (which is allowed!), try one of these no-bake treats for a little indulgence — many of which are low in sugar and calories.

    Photo: BELLALIMENTO on Family Kitchen (mini no-bake COOL WHIP chocolate mousse pie)

  • Ice Cream 5 of 8
    Ice Cream

    What the experts say: You might need calcium.

    What I say: Or maybe you just want some ice cream.

    Try eating: Nonfat frozen yogurt, fruit smoothies, and/or low-fat COOL WHIP. See some yummy COOL WHIP recipes here

    <a href=" http://blogs.babble.com/family-kitchen/2012/06/08/cool-whip-freezer-cookie-cake/Photo: The Naptime Chef on Family Kitchen (COOL WHIP Freezer Cookie Cake)

  • Meat 6 of 8
    Meat
  • Dirt, Plaster, Laundry Detergent, Hair, and other non-food items 7 of 8
    Dirt, Plaster, Laundry Detergent, Hair, and other non-food items

    What the experts say: Pica — the compulsive craving for non-food items — sounds frightening and crazy, but it does happen to some pregnant women. Although the American Pregnancy Association says that there is no definitive cause for pica, many experts speculate that there are a variety of possible reasons, including an iron deficiency, or a different vitamin/mineral deficiency that's missing from ordinary foods. Yet according to KidsHealth.org, Pica can actually cause iron-deficiency anemia, as well as a slew of other health issues like lead poisoning or parasites.

    What I say: Slowly back away from the clay and call your doctor. Experts (and common sense) say that pica cravings can be very dangerous, and it can quite possibly signify an underlying psychological problem. According toKidsHealth.org, pica is more common in pregnant women who experienced pica during their childhood or who have a family history of pica.

    Try eating: Anything else. Chewing sugarless gum is said to be a helpful substitute.

    Flickr/Mauren Veras

  • Ice 8 of 8
    Ice

    What the experts say: Craving ice is actually classified as "pica," and is a more common "non-food craving" than, say, dirt. Although there isn't a large body of evidence to support this, many experts (including the Journal of American Dietetic Association) are now linking ice cravings to a possible iron deficiency. The New York Times also reported a connection between the compulsive need for ice — diagnosed as pagophagia — and iron-deficiency anemia. According to The Times, scientists believe the ice might reduce mouth inflammation caused by iron deficiency. Yet the natural health specialist Dr. Weil warns against self-medicating with iron supplements without a medical blood-workup.

    What I say: If it's scorching hot outside and the idea of sucking on some refreshing ice sounds good, don't panic. But if your craving becomes compulsive, give your OB or midwife a ring.

    Try eating: An ice pop or drinking some water to see if that satisfies the craving. If not, talk to your doctor. (Repeatedly chewing frozen ice isn't so good for your teeth.)

    Flickr/greenzowie

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Read more of Michelle’s writing at Early Mama.

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