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Aversions: The Body's Natural Defense?

Once you're pregnant, certain foods you'd loved can soon become the pits. Carla Laszlo, of Southwick, Mass., says chocolate and sweets used to be staples. "Dessert always came first, and then dinner, if I had room!" Yet after she got pregnant, her yen for sweets disappeared. "I believe our bodies have a natural way of balancing themselves," she says.

The theory that pregnant women will naturally avoid foods that aren't good for them isn't so far-fetched. Margie Profet, an evolutionary biologist and mathematician, published research touting that concept two years ago in the book Pregnancy Sickness: Using Your Body's Natural Defenses to Protect Your Baby-to-Be.

Profet says plants produce an array of natural toxins to deter enemies, so the pungent or bitter tastes and smells of certain foods that trigger morning sickness are nature's way of protecting the embryo, especially during the all-important first trimester when organs form. She recommends a varied diet and says it's best to avoid some of the main culprits, including broccoli, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, mushrooms, mustard, coffee, and tea. Meats may also contain bacterial toxins, she says.

Cassandra Henderson, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says the concept makes sense. She sees plenty of women in her practice who smoke, or drink alcohol or coffee, yet once they get pregnant -- even before they're aware of it -- those substances make them sick.

Yet other studies have neither confirmed nor disproved the theory, and most of the medical community doesn't put much stock in it. The furthest they'll go is to say that aversions and morning sickness are often set off by the smell or taste of certain substances, such as greasy or spicy foods, or cigarette smoke, but they can't explain why.

They also worry that if women give in to aversions without some thought about their overall nutritional intake, they may unwittingly be shortchanging themselves on important nutrients. Many vegetables, for example, contain folic acid and iron, which are important during pregnancy.

"One important, although unusual, aversion is milk," says Pitkin. "Rather than being an aversion, it might actually be a lactose intolerance, and if that's the case, then [we'd] recommend lactose-free milk ... since calcium is important during pregnancy."

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