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Pregnancy Food Cravings

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Is there any science behind the bizarre food cravings experienced during pregnancy? The evidence is somewhat scattered, but some food cravings might have a biological connection and may be corrected through proper nutrition.

Pica, which is the practice of consuming non-food substances or foods of low nutritional value (like clay, soil, laundry detergent, ice, cornstarch) is reported in almost 40 percent of pregnancies. According to Mary C. Moore, MSN, PhD., a
Research Associate Professor at the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University

in Nashville, Tenn., there seems to be a genetic and cultural connection with pica with most cases among African-American and Hispanic women, women living in rural areas, and those with a family history of pica (2007). Many women experiencing pica have lowered hemoglobin levels and an iron deficiency (even though none of the food cravings commonly associated with pica contain iron, this concept that the body is triggering the women to eat specific foods may have a certain meaningful nutritional connection).

A midwife and herbalist from San Francisco, Cynthia Belew, mentions that cravings for chocolate may be linked to the body’s deficiency in magnesium. A lighter way to get your magnesium fix is from spinach, nuts, seeds and beans, and whole grain products. Belew has also found that some of her patients found relief of cravings after adding essential fatty acid supplements like fish oils and flax oil to their diets, possibly linking a deficiency to the cause of cravings.

While this deficiency-related concept is one idea, others believe that there is no biological meaning behind the bizarre pickle and ice cream urges. Elizabeth Somer, author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, relates the probability of pregnancy food cravings to the experienced hormonal changes impacting taste and smell; but does not see much of a connection between cravings and biologic deficiencies.

"People think their cravings are significant, but studies show no link between cravings and nutritional requirements," Somer said. "If people craved what the body needs, we would all eat more broccoli and less chocolate."

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