The Truth About Food Cravings

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 09, 2023
2 min read

Here's the surprising truth about pregnancy food cravings: Researchers still aren't sure what causes them.

Some experts think pregnancy cravings could be the result of hormone changes, while others suspect diet deficiencies.

For example: Craving ice cream? You must need calcium. The problem with that theory is that it's not clear which way the link goes. Are you craving ice cream because you're short on calcium, or are you short on calcium because you're eating so much ice cream your diet isn't balanced?

Nearly 2 out of 3 pregnant women have food cravings. In fact, food cravings have been documented as far back as ancient Greece. A few of the more common modern-day cravings include:

  • Milk and chocolate milk
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Sweets in general
  • Fruits like strawberries, grapefruit, and pineapple
  • Fish
  • Spicy, salty, fatty, or sour foods
  • Comfort foods (mashed potatoes, toast, cereal)

Of course, that's just a few of the possible pregnancy cravings. Some women get a hankering for frozen pickle juice, cheese and crackers, tea, or meat, while others crave salads, pizza, nuts, broccoli, or tacos. King Henry VIII's wife, Queen Jane Seymour, simply had to have quail.

Some pregnant women experience a craving for non-food items. This is called pica. Common pica cravings include:

  • Ice
  • Dirt or clay
  • Soap or laundry detergent
  • Paint chips
  • Ashes
  • Clothes
  • Plants
  • Paper
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cornstarch

Though pica is somewhat common during pregnancy, it's not good for you or your baby. If you're craving something that isn't food, talk to your doctor right away. It can be a sign you're short on a vital nutrient such as iron.

Managing intense food cravings can be hard, but the good news is that those cravings often let up after the first trimester.

In the meantime, you can cope with cravings just like you did before you were pregnant: indulge, but in moderation. A little ice cream, a few potato chips, a slice of pizza -- or whatever treat you find tempting -- is fine, just don't overindulge. And of course, do your best to eat a healthy diet the rest of the time.

Starting the day with a good, healthy breakfast, then eating good-for-you snacks like yogurt, fruit, and whole grains throughout the day can also help control cravings. And if your pregnancy craving happens to be sweets, keep up with flossing, brushing, and regular dental visits to make sure your teeth and gums stay healthy.