I am no stranger to pregnancy food cravings. With each of my three pregnancies, I had my share of intense longings for healthy and not so healthy foods, including greasy French fries, watermelon, regular soda, and anything salty.
I often gave in to my urge to splurge. That’s because it’s OK to indulge pregnancy cravings, within reason. Giving in too often is another matter, however.
Using pregnancy as a license to eat whatever you want, and by that I mean high-fat, low-nutrient fare including bacon double cheeseburgers, chips, and brownie sundaes, can lead to unnecessary weight gain, and it may program your child to prefer unhealthier food choices. A British Journal of Nutrition study suggests that women who regularly feast on so-called junk food during pregnancy may have children with a propensity for becoming overweight later in life because they prefer the taste of foods rich in sugar, fat, and calories.
Nobody knows what causes food cravings during pregnancy. Most likely, they’re driven by pregnancy hormones. Whatever the reason for cravings, here’s how to minimize the urge to overdo it on food, whether you want to eat healthy or not.
Don’t get too hungry. Eat on a regular basis to prevent intense hunger that may trigger food cravings. A balanced eating plan with adequate calories - about 340 more each day than your pre-pregnancy needs, starting in the second trimester, and about 450 more than your pre-pregnancy diet during the third trimester – helps prevent hunger that can make a craving worse and harder to resist.
Pack in the protein. Have protein and fiber at every meal and snack to keep your blood glucose levels on a more even keel. For example, combine hard-cooked eggs with whole wheat crackers; Greek yogurt and fruit; a small bowl of whole grain cereal and low-fat milk; a reduced-fat mozzarella cheese stick and whole grain roll; peanut butter and apple; pear and a half ounce of almonds; or pistachios and low-fat chocolate milk.
Check your stress. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you’re reaching for food in response to stress. You may just need a break to relieve tension. Take a short walk, talk on the phone with a friend, or do some errands to get your mind off of food.
Indulge! Go ahead and have the food you long for, just curb the portion. When you can’t resist chips, choose a one-ounce bag of the baked variety instead of opening a large bag of the fried kind. Use a custard dish for your ice cream instead of a large cereal bowl. And, put down the king size candy bar in favor of two mini candy bars. You may be satisfied with much less food than you think.
Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.
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