Experts Weigh in on Your Top Pregnancy Cravings

pregnant person eating fruit

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

If you are expecting, you may have noticed that certain foods suddenly feel totally off-limits, while you can't seem to get enough of others. For example, before pregnancy, you may not have been able to live without your morning coffee, but now you can’t touch the stuff. Instead, you find yourself craving foods like red meat, chocolate, or salt & vinegar potato chips (and sometimes all in one meal).

If you are having unusual cravings, you are far from alone. Between 50-90% of people experience cravings during pregnancy. We reached out to experts to help us understand why these cravings happen, and what they may tell you about your body and your pregnancy.

Why Do Pregnancy Cravings Happen?

The truth is, no one knows for sure why pregnant people have particular hankerings.

“While pregnancy cravings are very common, we don’t exactly know why they happen,” says Janine Higbie, MS, CNS, CDN, certified dietitian nutritionist of JH Wellness.

Higbie explains that there are a couple of theories behind the phenomenon, including the idea that cravings are related to hormonal changes that affect taste perceptions, or that the foods we crave are a response to nutritional deficiencies. Many cravings may stem from cultural or psychosocial factors, Higbie adds.

Jennifer Wong MD, OB/GYN, and section chief in the division of maternal fetal medicine at  Bridgeport Hospital, agrees that cultural expectations can greatly influence pregnancy cravings.

“The specific foods that are craved usually depend upon the individual’s cultural background and may be influenced by the community and commonly discussed pregnancy food cravings, such as pickles and ice cream in the U.S.,” she says. Dr. Wong also hypothesizes that metabolic changes during pregnancy, and an increased caloric demand, may influence pregnancy cravings.

Research has found that the majority of pregnancy cravings happen during the first trimester, with about 76% of pregnant people having at least one craving during this time. Cravings for particular foods tend to peak during the second trimester (when most pregnant people report being at their hungriest!) and tend to decrease toward the end of pregnancy.

7 Common Pregnancy Cravings, Explained

Everyone has different cravings during pregnancy, and some cravings may be quite unique. But there are a few that seem to be fairly common. Let's look at some of the more frequent cravings pregnant people have, along with expert commentary about why these cravings happen.

Pickles, Chips, and Other Salty Foods

Wanting to gorge on pickles might be a pregnancy stereotype, but the fact is that many pregnant people crave salty snacks.

“Pickles, olives, potato chips, and other salty foods may be related to the increased demand for salt that occurs during pregnancy,” Higbie says.

The fluid in our bodies increases significantly during pregnancy—blood plasma goes up by 30-50%!—and salt helps regulate the fluid balance in our bodies. “As sodium and electrolyte requirements increase, salty foods can help meet the body’s needs,” Higbie explains.

This doesn’t mean you should go overboard on salt, though. It’s unclear the role that salt plays in pregnancy hypertension and preeclampsia, but you should talk to your doctor if you are craving excessive amounts of salt to make sure you are not overindulging.

Spicy Foods

It’s common to crave spicy foods, or foods with powerful flavors, during pregnancy.

“This may be a result of hormonal changes that affect taste preference or physiologically active compounds that may help alleviate nausea and other pregnancy symptoms,” says Higbie. There is no reason not to indulge in spicy foods, but keep in mind that some might exacerbate conditions like heartburn, which is common toward the end of pregnancy.

There’s also an idea floating around that eating spicy foods close to your due date can induce labor. This is a bit of a myth, says Dr. Wong. “Spicy food is most commonly discussed as something that will kickstart labor,” she says. “There is no real evidence to support any specific foods inducing labor successfully.”

Jennifer Wong, MD

The specific foods that are craved usually depend upon the individual’s cultural background and may be influenced by the community and commonly discussed pregnancy cravings, such as pickles and ice cream.

— Jennifer Wong, MD

Ice Cream or Dairy Products

Craving ice cream is another of those infamous pregnancy stereotypes. But there’s probably something to those cravings for ice cream and other dairy products during pregnancy, says Aaron Gelfand, MD, OB-GYN at ChoicePoint.

“Ice cream is a wonderful treat, but desiring it could also indicate that your body needs something,” Dr. Gelfand explains. That something is likely calcium, because your need for calcium increases while you are pregnant. Pregnant people need at least 1,000 mg of calcium a day; foods like dairy products, along with dark leafy greens, can help meet those requirements.

Another nutrient that dairy products provide is iodine, an essential mineral during pregnancy. “Most people associate dairy with calcium, which is true, but it’s also hypothesized that the craving can be related to meeting increased iodine needs,” says Higbie. You need about 220 micrograms of iodine a day in pregnancy, and you can get this from dairy products, as well as iodized table salt, eggs, seafood, and meat.

Chocolate

Many pregnant people develop quite a sweet tooth, and cravings for chocolate are often top of the list. What you might not realize is that chocolate—especially dark chocolate—is actually a good source of several vitamins and minerals. Dr. Gelfand says that some pregnant people who crave chocolate may be deficient in certain B vitamins, which chocolate can provide.

For example, chocolate is a source of vitamin B6 and vitamin B-12, both of which are important in pregnancy. Dark chocolate is also an excellent source of iron, calcium, protein, magnesium, and potassium—all of which are vital during pregnancy.

Citrus Fruit

Craving oranges, lemons, grapefruits, mandarins, and clementines during pregnancy? You are not the only one, and there’s probably a good reason for these desires, explains Dr. Gelfand.

“This is one of the healthier cravings a pregnant woman can experience because fruit is healthy for us and, depending on the specific fruit, will give a range of vitamins and minerals,” he says.

Citrus fruits, along with berries and melons, are a rich source of vitamin C, Dr. Gelfand adds. “Vitamin C—which is abundant in strawberries, citrus fruits, cantaloupe melon, and blackcurrants—aids in the healthy development of a fetus's bones, teeth, and other essential components,” he describes. Pregnant people need about 85 milligrams of vitamin C each day.

Red Meat

It’s quite common to have an urge to eat red meat during pregnancy. Sometimes even people who typically avoid red meat or are vegetarian find themselves with this craving. This is most likely explained by a nutritional deficiency, says Higbie—specifically, an increased need for iron in your diet while pregnancy.

“It’s hypothesized that a craving for red meat is the body’s wisdom,” Higbie described, citing a study that found that 42% of pregnant people are deficient in iron during the first trimester of pregnancy. You need at least 27 milligrams of iron a day during pregnancy. Besides red meat, good sources of iron include chicken, beans, peas, and iron-enriched breads and cereals.

Non-Food Items

Ever had a deep craving to chew ice during pregnancy? What about other non-food items, such as paper, soap, starch, or even dirt and rocks? These cravings might sound outlandish, but they are actually more common than you might think. The craving for non-food items is called pica, and it may indicate mineral deficiencies during pregnancy, says Dr. Wong.

“While the exact cause of pica remains unclear, it may occur in association with specific micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron or zinc,” she explains. “Iron-deficiency anemia is common in pregnancy and is often the precipitating factor which may cause pica during pregnancy.”

If you are craving non-food items, you should speak with your healthcare provider. It’s important to address these concerns, not just because these cravings may indicate nutritional deficiencies, but because consuming non-food products can be unhealthy and can be dangerous, says Dr. Wong.

A Word From Verywell

Although it’s common to have intense cravings for specific foods during pregnancy—and it’s usually fine to give into them—the best diet during pregnancy is a diverse one, packed with nutrient-dense foods.

Stay in touch with your healthcare provider about your diet during pregnancy so that you can make sure the foods you eat keep you healthy and strong, and provide your growing baby everything they need.

10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.