Every woman is different and the cravings that women experience during the first trimester of pregnancy do vary. Pickles and ice cream are the typical cliches, but the “pickles and ice cream” jokes are meant to illustrate the sometimes-bizarre food combinations that many women want during this important time in their lives.
Obviously, most women don’t crave salty pickles on sweet ice cream. However, they may crave things that they’d never want if they weren’t expecting babies.
Today, we’d like to share information about the most common first trimester “unhealthy” cravings. We want pregnant women to find safer and healthier alternatives.
To start things off, let’s talk about why women have these cravings in the first place. Then, we’ll outline the most common cravings and why they aren’t typically the healthiest food choices. To help pregnant women eat better, we’ll then propose some excellent substitutes which are nutrient-packed, yet still, satisfy cravings.
Why Do Women Crave Foods Early in Pregnancy?
Women crave foods early in pregnancy for two main reasons. The first is drastically altered hormone levels. A couple of hormones do surge during early pregnancy, and these are progesterone and estrogen. Since hormones have a huge impact on human emotion, thought and behavior (PMS is one example of hormones at play!), hormones likely play a prominent role in the food cravings of newly-pregnant women.
The hormones are necessary for fetal development, but they do change the way that pregnant women think and feel.
In addition to pronounced hormone shifts, women tend to crave things which help to nourish the baby. This may sound confusing, as we’ve talked about unhealthy cravings right in the title of this article! However, there is likely something in the food that is craved which the baby needs.
For example, someone who isn’t getting enough iron to foster optimal fetal development may begin to crave food that has iron in it, such as chicken nuggets from MacDonald’s.
It may be unhealthy food otherwise, but still, contain iron which is needed. The goal of finding healthy substitutes is to deliver what the baby needs (such as iron), without the bad stuff. Hopefully, this explanation is clear.
Now, let’s talk about what women usually want while they are early into pregnancy. There are some foods which women tend to crave more often than other foods. You may fit the pattern or you may not. Before we begin, we want to let you know that taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy is very beneficial. It helps to prevent birth defects.
Folic acid is a synthetic version of vitamin B9 and having good levels of this vitamin will help to ensure that your unborn baby’s neural tube develops as it should. It’s hard to get enough vitamin B9 from food, so be sure to get a supplement. If you have questions about folic acid, which is also known as folate, please talk to your doctor.
Which Foods Do Women Crave?
A lot of women want to crunch and suck ice during the early phase of pregnancy. It’s possible that they need more hydration and this is what prompts the craving. As well, many women want chocolate while they are expecting, or other sweet treats, including ice cream (pickles optional).
Other popular cravings are for pickles, perhaps due to their high sodium content (maybe the baby wants more iodine?) and potato chips (also very salty!). Fruit is also something that women crave now and it’s a healthy choice, if women don’t overdo it.
Lemon is also something that a lot of newly-pregnant women love. It’s tart, and the acidic appeal is strong during the first days and weeks of pregnancy. Lemon has lots of healthy vitamin C so this may be the reason why women crave it. Vitamin C is a powerful vitamin which boosts immune system function. Interestingly, lemons do contain some folic acid, and this may be the reason why these citrus fruits are so appealing to pregnant women.
Craving lemon during early pregnancy is Mother Nature’s way of making sure that you get your folate!
Now that we’ve covered the main food cravings, some of which aren’t too healthy, let’s talk about how to make delicious and healthy substitutes.
How to Prepare Healthy Substitutes
Now, we’ve talked about the key food cravings which tend to crop up during the first trimester. To help you make smart choices when cravings strike, let’s discuss some yummy alternatives. We’ll find clever ways for you to indulge your cravings, without putting the bad stuff into your body.
Ice – Ice is fine, really. If you don’t freeze your mouth by munching too much of it, it’s not going to hurt you. However, it will be possible for you to satisfy your cravings for ice in a way which allows you to get more nutrients. For example, making a homemade slush drink is a great option.
You may crush ice in the blender and add fresh unsweetened fruit juice or chopped seedless fruit. Then, blend until you get the perfect slush consistency and enjoy. You’ll love the iciness of this drink, you’ll become hydrated, and you’ll also enjoy the health benefits of fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice…and so will the baby who is growing in your womb. Just try to drink slowly to avoid “brain freeze.”
As well, as a rule of thumb, eating or drinking slowly will help you to avoid morning sickness or general nausea. Eating quickly or drinking quickly tends to trigger these “sick stomach” feelings.
Chocolate – Most people crave chocolate now and then, whether they are expecting or not. A lot of what we crave depends on genetics and our own unique palate and taste buds. If you crave chocolate, you should know that an ancient legend says that you’re carrying a girl. This may be nonsense, but it’s a fun fact nonetheless.
To get your chocolate fix, buy organic chocolate. It’s purer and better for you. Treat yourself to a single square, or a couple of squares, to enjoy the intense chocolate taste. Try to avoid overdoing it, as non-organic chocolate isn’t a healthy choice. It’s so sugary and often very processed.
One fun option is to melt some organic chocolate in a double boiler and then drip fresh, washed and trimmed strawberries in it. The strawberries (any fruit will work, really) are loaded with antioxidants and other things that your baby needs.
Pickles – Pickles aren’t all bad but they are loaded with sodium and eating too many may contribute to bloating (edema). To get your pickle fix, just have one or part of one, or add chopped pickles to a salad as a topping. A few slices of pickle on a healthy turkey burger will also be a fine choice. It’s all about moderation. One fine option is low-sodium pickles. You won’t get the salt overload, but you’ll still enjoy the strong flavor and crunch.
Lemon – Lemon is fine, but again, as with anything, you shouldn’t overdo it. Too much lemon has a pronounced laxative effect, and you don’t want to leech your body of vital nutrients while you’re pregnant. When you do consume too much lemon, the food that you eat may pass through your body too quickly, and the baby won’t get the nutrition that he or she needs to develop well before you give birth. So, use lemon sparingly. It could be squeezed onto a salad or used as ingredients in a vinaigrette or marinade. Also, adding a dash of fresh lemon juice to a bottle of filtered water will allow you to satisfy your early pregnancy craving without going too far.
More Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Hopefully, our guide to healthy substitutions has given you some welcome inspiration. You need to find safer alternatives for junk foods which are loaded with sugar, salt and or bad fats.
There is more than you can do to stay healthy and happy during the first trimester. The most important things are to see your doctor regularly. He or she will provide expert advice which is based on your own medical history. You’ll regularly be weighed to ensure that you’re gaining a healthy amount and you’ll also have access to help for any adverse symptoms that you might be experiencing.
Some women struggle with morning sickness and, now and then, it doesn’t stop when the morning ends. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, talking to your doctor may help a lot. There are different strategies for coping with morning sickness, such as eating some dry crackers while you’re lying in bed and letting them digest somewhat before you get up. Some women find that sports drinks are a good way to quell nausea.
Also, there is a wristband, called a Sea-band, which is a great choice for women with morning sickness. It activates a pressure point along the wrist, and many sailors, and pregnant women use it to avoid seasickness and morning sickness. You can find the Sea-band online. It’s a drug-free and safe treatment, and it may work for you. Plus, it doesn’t cost too much and looks nice.
You should also try to exercise regularly while you’re expecting. Exercise should be gentle, rather than intense. This isn’t the right time to enter a “Tough MUDder” competition, participate in an “Iron Woman” competition or what have you. It’s a time for soothing and moderate exercise, such as prenatal Yoga or swimming.
Also, sleep and rest are so important at this time. It’s not uncommon for women to need far more rest and sleep while they are pregnant. If you can curtail your work and activities, do so. Also, let other people help you when they offer to. If you’re going it alone, which is sometimes the case, be strong and commit to taking care of yourself. You will get through your pregnancy. Look for support online or in the community. If you feel lonely, find a therapist. Even women in low-income brackets should be able to qualify for therapy in the community which is scaled to income. You do not need to be alone. There is help there for you. It’s just a matter of accessing resources which help you to connect to others.
Enjoy this Special Time
You may not show yet, but you will soon. In fact, other people may not even know that you’re expecting. A lot of women keep their pregnancies private until the first trimester is over. However, and whenever you decide to share the news, try to find joy in your situation. Pregnancy is a miracle, and something amazing is happening to you.
Once you start to show, treat yourself to a nice maternity outfit if you can afford it. If you can’t, look for consignment stores or thrift stores where maternity outfits are available. Try to do your hair and makeup and pamper yourself. Pregnancy is beautiful. While you may be feeling unwell, your morning sickness will probably go away shortly, so try to be philosophical. Surrender to cravings as they surface by choosing healthy alternatives. If you can’t afford good food visit a local food bank. Food banks are there to help, and there’s no shame in using them to nourish your baby.
Now that you know more about the most common first trimester “unhealthy” cravings, you’ll be ready to test out some great alternatives. It’s all about satisfying the craving without hurting you or the unborn baby. As well, if you find yourself craving non-food items, you should mention it to your doctor. Some women do experience some strange cravings, such as the urge to eat dirt or paper. This is unusual but not unheard of. Resist these cravings and speak to your doctor. He or she will be able to determine if some sort of vitamin deficiency is triggering the non-food cravings.