women

Is it your body telling you what you need or could it be just an excuse to tuck in?

Your baby at 3 months

Track your baby’s progress

Size: Your tiny baby’s feet are almost 1cm long. From crown to rump, your baby grows from about 2.5cm to about 7.5cm long (from about the size of an olive to a peach).

Progress: The most dramatic development this month are your baby’s reflexes. Your baby’s fingers will soon begin to open and close, his toes will curl, his eye muscles will clench, and his mouth will make sucking movements.

Body: His intestines, which have grown so fast that they protrude into the umbilical cord, will start to move into his abdominal cavity about now, and his kidneys will begin excreting urine into his bladder. His eyes have moved from the sides to the front.

The most dramatic development this month are your baby’s reflexes.

The most dramatic development this month are your baby’s reflexes.

Your hormones are in a pickle, and you can’t seem to explain why the roast chicken you once loved now makes you squirm, or why you just can’t get enough of caramel flavored popcorn. Don’t worry; it’s all quite normal.

Pregnancy cravings are bizarre, and largely unexplainable – but up to 75 percent of pregnant women experience them. It may be the body’s way of alerting us to nutritional deficiencies but often it’s just plain comfort eating. If you crave something healthy, and broccoli or cottage cheese is the only thing on your mind then by all means tuck in. But if you, like many women, crave a rather large bowl of ice cream (with extra sprinkles), then it may be time to reassess what these cravings mean, why you shouldn’t always give in and how to find healthy alternatives.

Are my cravings real?

Has someone told you that your desire to eat pickles and chocolate spread is a figment of your imagination? They’d be wrong. Food cravings and food aversions during pregnancy are indeed a real thing, says Johannesburg dietician Claire Julsing-Strydom. “They are powerful urges that pregnant women experience to either eat certain foods or avoid them. Common food aversions include coffee and other caffeinated drinks, meat and alcohol. Food cravings often include sweets, dairy products and foods that are quick to eat,” she says.

Food cravings and food aversions during pregnancy are indeed a real thing,

Food cravings and food aversions during pregnancy are indeed a real thing

But the reason for these cravings and aversions is not yet well understood. A possible cause is the hormonal and emotional changes that occur in pregnancy, which can affect your taste buds and reactions to food. This might explain why most women experience cravings in their first trimester, when hormones play havoc on the body. Your cravings should subside by the fourth month, so if they haven’t make sure to visit your doctor. Another reason pregnant women may crave is for comfort, explains Johannesburg dietician Lila Bruk. Pregnancy is a difficult time and everything is new (if not a little daunting). Often women reach for the first available pizza (or cupcake) to soothe their feelings.

Cravings are also a mechanism to deal with the symptoms of pregnancy, argues Claire. “It seems most women crave or prefer certain foods because it helps to manage nausea and vomiting symptoms that are common in the first trimester.” Pickles, sour foods, and dry starchy foods are all common cravings and all known to help calm nausea. But Claire argues that there is no correlation between these cravings and a nutrient deficiency – and therefore you don’t always need to give in. Ask yourself if you really crave the food or if you are using the excuse of being pregnant to eat whatever you desire.

Some experts believe that cravings may be due to a nutritional deficiency and are the body’s call for missing nutrients. However there is little evidence to support this – so think twice before you gobble down a slab of chocolate thinking it’s your body’s need for magnesium.

No food has a single nutrient as all foods contain a variety of nutrients. Therefore the craving of chocolate is unlikely to be for its nutritional value, but rather for its feel-good capabilities – chocolate boosts serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain.

No food has a single nutrient as all foods contain a variety of nutrients.

No food has a single nutrient as all foods contain a variety of nutrients.

Yet in some cases there might be a biological cause for cravings (like when a vegetarian craves meat), says Lila. The truth is no one knows for sure. Therefore a safe bet is to not ignore your cravings and rather indulge in the healthy cravings and find alternatives for the less healthy ones.

Forbidden foods

While the combination of olives and chocolate is essentially harmless, what happens when you crave something that is definitely off-limits? Unfortunately, just because your body is craving a salmon California roll, does not mean you should eat it. Food cravings for sushi, a raw steak or cheese made with unpasteurized milk (like Brie), should be avoided in order to reduce your exposure to bacteria and viruses that are associated with these foods. Lila suggests substituting them with foods with a similar taste and nutritional value. “Try eating a well-cooked steak if you are craving biltong. If you are craving sushi try vegetable sushi or cooked fish and rice,” she says.

While the combination of olives and chocolate is essentially harmless, what happens when you crave something that is definitely off-limits?

While the combination of olives and chocolate is essentially harmless, what happens when you crave something that is definitely off-limits?

Healthy alternatives

Many women crave foods with poor nutritional value and tend to eat foods containing refined carbohydrates and sugar in the first trimester to help with nausea. This can result in unnecessary weight gain. “More importantly it increases insulin secretion and uncontrolled blood glucose levels which is problematic for women who are at risk of developing gestational diabetes,” says Claire.

Is there a way to curb unhealthy cravings? First, try to distract yourself by engaging in another activity. Lila suggests going for a brisk walk, calling a friend or reading a magazine. Sounds simple, but the distraction may allow the craving to pass. If you’re still aching for some bacon, then rather substitute your craving with a healthier and a more nutritionally sound alternative.

Many women crave foods with poor nutritional value and tend to eat foods containing refined carbohydrates and sugar in the first trimester to help with nausea.

Many women crave foods with poor nutritional value and tend to eat foods containing refined carbohydrates and sugar in the first trimester to help with nausea.

Alkaline foods like cherry tomatoes and broccoli may also help to reduce your cravings. If all else fails, give in to the craving, but try to limit your intake. “It is important to not use pregnancy as an excuse to start eating unhealthily. Not every craving needs to be given in to,” says Lila.

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