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Health & Pregnancy

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Coping With Pregnancy Food Cravings

Do food cravings threaten to derail good nutrition during your pregnancy? Here's how to stay on track.

Food Cravings Aren't All Bad

The foods women tend to want are, in fact, good choices. Take dairy products, for example, rich in protein, calcium, and several other nutrients, which are among the top foods women want during pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes. When Dolan was pregnant, cranberry juice was all she wanted to drink. Fortified cranberry juice can be an excellent source of calcium or vitamin C and contains an array of other nutrients necessary during pregnancy.

Food cravings typically differ from pregnancy to pregnancy. They may also change from day to day. Don't be surprised when the food you had to have yesterday repulses you today. Sometimes, a pregnancy changes food preferences permanently. After delivering, Dolan's love of cranberry juice turned to distaste. "Now, I won't even go near it," she says.

Some women find themselves with a yen for nonfood items, including ice, dirt, clay, paper, and even paint chips, a condition known as pica. Pica may signal iron deficiency. Expectant mothers may also get the urge to eat flour or cornstarch, which, despite being food items, are a problem in large amounts. Too much can lead to blocked bowels and crowd out the nutrients your baby needs by causing you to feel full. If you have any of these urges, resist eating the items you crave, and report them to your doctor right away.

No matter how strong your desire, steer clear of foods considered health risks for pregnant women and developing babies. These include:

  • Raw and undercooked seafood, meat, and eggs
  • Unpasteurized milk and any foods made from it, including Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, and Mexican-style cheeses
  • Unpasteurized juice
  • Raw vegetable sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, and radish
  • Herbal teas
  • Alcohol

It's possible to have food cravings and still provide your baby with the nutrients she or he needs to grow. However, giving in too often to your desire for high-calorie foods may translate into too much weight gain. Too much weight gain increases the risk of gestational diabetes and unhealthy blood pressure levels.

Here's how to handle pregnancy cravings:

  • Eat a balanced diet that includes lean sources of protein, reduced-fat dairy foods, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes. When your diet is balanced, a small portion of a not-so-healthy food won't crowd out the nutrition your baby needs.
  • Eat regularly to avoid drops in blood sugar that could trigger food cravings. Dividing up food into six small and satisfying meals can help.
  • Include regular physical activity (as permitted by your doctor).
  • If the urge to eat brownie sundaes is ruling your life, try taking your mind off food by waiting to eat (as long as you had a balanced meal or snack within the last two hours); going on a short walk; running an errand (but avoid the grocery store!); getting out of the kitchen; calling a friend; or reading.
  • Try satisfying a candy urge with a fun-size bar instead of the king size. Got to have chips? Choose a snack size bag of baked chips to limit fat intake and overall consumption.
  • Focus on lower-calorie foods. Frozen yogurt and low-fat fudge bars may do the trick when you desire super-premium ice cream. Sorbet, sherbet, and frozen fruit bars are other lower-calorie frozen treats that can stand in for higher-calorie options.
  • Create more healthy stand-ins for the treats you crave. When you must have a strawberry Danish, try spreading four graham cracker squares with two tablespoons whipped cream cheese. Top with strawberry preserves or sliced fresh strawberries. Another idea: Put off running out to buy a milkshake with this blender treat: Combine low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt and orange juice and whip to desired consistency.

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Reviewed on June 01, 2006

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