Decoding Pregnancy Cravings and What They Mean - Baby Chick
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Decoding Pregnancy Cravings and What They Mean

It's normal to have pregnancy cravings! But what do they mean and what are some healthy alternatives? We're here with answers.

Updated March 19, 2024

by Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

When people think about pregnancy, one of the first things that comes to mind is food cravings. Food cravings are intense desires for particular foods where resistance is difficult. Food cravings are different from hunger because they are more extreme and fixed. Strong food desires are common throughout pregnancy and tend to reach their peak during the second trimester.5

Cravings can be viewed as a two-step process consisting of internal or external factors, followed by an elaboration of thoughts and associations through mental imagery. While the exact reason why pregnancy cravings emerge remains unknown, many hypotheses exist, such as fluctuating hormones, nutritional deficits, pharmacologically active ingredients, and cultural and psychosocial factors.

Pregnancy Cravings and What They Mean

Pregnancy cravings begin most frequently in the early stages of pregnancy.5 Food cravings tend to peak during the second trimester and diminish as pregnancy progresses. Research also shows a significant decrease in pregnancy cravings following the baby’s delivery. But that doesn’t mean that cravings won’t persist, especially if you are breastfeeding.5

The most common pregnancy cravings include sweets, savory carbohydrates, animal protein foods, and fruits. Savory food cravings are the most prominent during the first trimester.5 Sweet foods peak in intensity during the second trimester.5 Cravings for salty foods can arise later in pregnancy, specifically in the later stages.5 Intense cravings that emerge throughout pregnancy are often the result of nutritional deficits or can serve as a form of encouragement for increased energy intake. This hypothesis views pregnancy cravings as a way for the body to ensure adequate nutrition for the growing baby.

Ice and Other Weird Cravings

Pica is a condition that can arise in pregnant women. It is characterized by craving substances that provide no nutritional value. Although Pica is not exclusive to pregnant women, it can result in unusual pregnancy cravings, such as ice, clay, soil, paper, and cornstarch for at least one month.6 Several studies have strived to explain the etiology of Pica, resulting in explanations such as nutritional deficiencies, a preference for specific characteristics of the craved substances, or a coping mechanism for stress levels.1 Several studies provide evidence suggesting that ice cravings can result from an iron deficiency with or without anemia.2

Pickles and Ice Cream

Salt and sweet tend to be the most referred to as pregnancy food cravings that women experience. Salty foods are frequently desired in the late stages of pregnancy. Table salt consists of sodium and chloride. Chloride is also a component of sea salt. Since salt is commonly added to foods, it may be possible that pregnancy cravings for salty foods result from the body’s need for chloride. An alternative way to obtain chloride in your diet when salty cravings arise is through food sources like seaweed, rye, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Pickles are another commonly craved food among pregnant women. Often, women crave the saltier varieties. Pickles are composed of high amounts of water and sodium. Whenever pickle cravings emerge in pregnancy, the body may be indicating a need for either water or sodium. Pickles can contain high amounts of sodium. So be on the lookout for low-sodium options.

Sweet foods are often strongly desired during pregnancy. Foods that are thought of as “sweets” typically contain carbohydrates. When sweet cravings set in, the body may be craving carbohydrates. It is also important to consider that craving sugary foods may also be the body indicating a drop in blood sugar levels. An alternative way to obtain carbohydrates in the diet is through foods healthier and more blood-sugar-friendly options, such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, fruits, and lentils.

Spicy Food

Craving spicy foods is slightly less common than craving sweet and savory foods. In a survey of 635 pregnant women, 3.3% reported craving spicy foods.3 Spicy foods, such as chili peppers and jalapenos, provide a significant amount of vitamin C. For some individuals, heartburn and acid reflux can result from the consumption of spicy foods. Another way to obtain vitamin C when spicy cravings come around is through food sources such as bell peppers, broccoli, or tomatoes.

All the Fruit

Craving fruit during pregnancy was ranked number four for the most commonly craved food while pregnant, according to a survey of roughly 200 pregnant women.4 Fruit and some pure fruit juices are excellent sources of nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Eating bananas, oranges, pure fruit juices, apricots, and berries are great options if cravings for fruit or orange juice come about.

Dairy Products

A study of 200 pregnant women revealed that dairy products were ranked number 10 for most common pregnancy cravings.4 Although not as common as other cravings, milk cravings are possible and may be healthy for you to indulge in! Cow’s milk contains high amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, so craving milk may indicate the body’s need for these nutrients.


Another interesting pregnancy craving that may occur is acidic foods like lemons. Whenever a craving for lemons arises, the body may need magnesium or vitamin C. Magnesium is important for various bodily functions, including our ability to rest, relax muscles, and de-stress. Additional food sources that can provide the body with magnesium include legumes, whole grains, cashews, brown rice, and dark leafy green vegetables.

Does Baby’s Gender Play a Role in Pregnancy Cravings?

Some women swear that their pregnancy cravings are tied to and can predict the gender of their baby. For centuries, people have believed that there are definitive cravings for both genders of a baby. Many argue that if you are craving salty or savory foods, this is a sign that you are having a boy. Whereas cravings for sweets mean this is a sign you will have a little girl. However, no empirical research shows that pregnancy cravings indicate the baby’s gender.

Several factors result in a woman’s cravings during pregnancy. The nutritional needs of the body may contribute significantly. Pregnancy cravings often consist of foods that may not be ideal during pregnancy, such as sweets and salty foods. However, alternative food sources can provide the body with what it desires. Paying close attention to what the body craves during pregnancy can be an opportunity to make some changes and fuel the body with healthier food sources. Although pregnancy cravings are inevitable for most, listening to the body and prioritizing the baby’s health can fulfill those cravings without sacrificing optimal nutrition.

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Nicole Avena
Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D. Associate Professor of Neuroscience
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Nicole Avena, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She is the author of several books, including… Read more

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