During pregnancy, a woman experiences a number of physiological and behavioral adjustments. Heightened food cravings and aversions are some of the changes that most expecting moms experience.
Food cravings obviously refer to the intense urges to eat particular foods. On the other hand, food aversions (also called taste aversions) are characterized by the repulsion and avoidance of particular foods that you may have liked before you became pregnant.
The dramatic feelings of disgust toward particular foods, tastes and smells can trigger nausea or even vomiting. Food aversions are particularly prominent during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy.
A 2002 study published in the journal Appetite reports that 61 percent of pregnant women experience food cravings and 54 percent experience food aversions. Also, in 60 percent of women reporting nausea and food aversions, the first occurrence of each happened in the same week of pregnancy.
Causes of Food Aversions during Pregnancy
Food aversions are caused by hormonal changes in the body that occur during pregnancy. The level of the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone increases during the first trimester, and it is mainly responsible for symptoms like nausea, food cravings and food aversions.
Women also have a heightened sense of smell and taste in pregnancy, and anything with a strong smell can make you feel nauseated. This in turn can cause an aversion to that particular food.
Some experts believe that certain food aversions are the body’s instinctual attempt to keep a pregnant woman from eating foods that could be harmful to her or her baby’s health during pregnancy. But there’s a lack of consensus on that theory.
A 2016 study published in Human Nature assessed data from an indigenous population in Fiji and found that women who have aversions to specific foods are more likely to crave foods that meet nutritional needs similar to those provided by the aversive foods. These appetite changes may function in parallel with cultural mechanisms to solve pregnancy challenges.
Common Foods Aversions
Some of the most common aversions are toward foods with strong smells, such as:
- Meat, especially chicken and red meat
- High-fat and fried foods
- Tea and coffee
- Spicy foods
Tips to Deal with Food Aversions
Dealing with food aversions is not easy, as they can trigger nausea or vomiting. To deal with food aversions:
1. Keep a Huge Variety of Foods on Hand
When you have many healthy options to choose from, you can eat one at a time as your appetite allows. This helps your body get all the essential nutrients it needs and keeps you from getting bored by eating the same food every day.
2. Be Flexible with Your Meals
Be flexible regarding the time when you might eat a particular food. For instance, your taste buds may not prefer to have an egg for breakfast, but the same egg may become palatable again at lunchtime. So, be flexible and methodical about your food evaluations.
3. Trick Your Brain; Plan Your Meals at the Last Minute
It’s OK to plan your meals at the last minute, so that you don’t think about the food for too long. If you do not decide what you want for lunch or dinner until 10 minutes before time to eat, your brain does not have the time to react negatively to it.
Also, if you have strong food aversions during pregnancy, do not worry about mealtimes. Eat small amounts of food whenever you feel like it. This way your body gets the much-needed calories to keep your energy level up and prevents you from getting exhausted.
4. Opt for Alternative Foods to Fulfil Your Nutritional Needs
If you are experiencing an early pregnancy aversion to classic protein foods like meat, eggs and fish, opt for other protein sources like soy (soy pasta, tofu, edamame), nuts and legumes, beans and certain grains (especially quinoa and couscous).
If you have a milk aversion, get your calcium from other dairy products like cheese or yogurt. You can use yogurt to make yummy smoothies and add cheese to soup or sandwiches. You can also opt for calcium-fortified juices, soy products, sesame seeds, collard greens, broccoli and cooked dried beans to get your daily dose of calcium.
5. Hide the Foods You Don’t Want in Other Foods
Consider hiding what you find offensive in other foods that you enjoy. For instance, if sunny-side up eggs make you nauseated, add eggs to your pancakes or your soup.
6. Include More Fruits in Your Diet
If you do not feel like eating vegetables, include more fruits in your diet to fulfill your nutritional requirements. Fruits like cantaloupe, mangos, strawberries, watermelon, grapefruit and apricots are good for pregnant women.
7. Use Herbs in Your Cooking
Instead of using onions and garlic in your cooking, you can use herbs to enhance the taste of your food. Basil, rosemary, sage and thyme are some good options you can try.
8. Replace Your Tea or Coffee with Fresh Lemonade
There is nothing to worry about if you have tea or coffee-related aversions, as the caffeine in them is not good for your health. You can drink homemade lemonade or fresh fruit juice instead.
Most women experience food aversions during the first trimester, but they can occur at any point during pregnancy. New aversions can also develop at any time.
However, they tend to get better after the baby is born. But in some cases, the aversions may persist long after you’ve welcomed your baby into the world. Just keep following these tips to ensure you eat healthy and stay energized, so you can keep up with your little one.