When females go through their first pregnancy, they're often taken by surprise when they're suddenly overcome with intense and often irrational food cravings. In fact, over half of females who have been pregnant reported experiencing cravings during those nine months. Pickles covered in Cheez Whiz, the spiciest pad thai available, Cheetos in soup -- nothing is too crazy.
So why do these cravings occur? The general consensus among doctors is that these cravings are the result of hormones, but it's not quite as simple as that. After all, no part of being pregnant is simple.
Hormones are the go-to explanation because, well, females go through a metric sh*t ton of hormonal changes while their bodies are busy creating a literal mini human being. This is also why females might experience similar cravings (although not usually as intense) during menopause and menstruation.
The wildest part of these hormone-induced cravings is that they can change depending on the trimester the female is in. And cravings often differ drastically from what these moms-to-be desired pre-pregnancy. For instance, a study from the University of Connecticut found that first trimester pregnancies tend to produce an aversion to bitter foods. This is thought to be because evolution taught our ancestors that bitter foods tend to mean poison or, at the very least, digestive danger.
So hormones explain cravings for unexpected foods. But what about cravings for weird, non-edible things like chalk or clay? These are harder to explain, but it comes down to the body communicating a need for extra vitamins and supplements it doesn't usually need while not pregnant.
Cravings for clay or dirt, for instance, might indicate a need for more iron or zinc, some experts believe. And, according to San Francisco midwife and herbalist Cynthia Belew, cravings for sweets like chocolate mean the female's body is in need of some extra magnesium.
Ice is also a popular pregnancy craving that can't just be chalked up to hormones. During pregnancy, it isn't uncommon for females to develop mild anemia. This iron deficiency often results in a swollen tongue and mouth. Even if you don't notice these slight swellings, your body sure does. That's why it seeks out cool foods like ice (if you can even call that food) to alleviate the problem.
Spicy foods, another popular craving, also don't have much to do with hormones. Like ice, spicy foods offer relief from the near-constant overheating pregnant females experience. Since spice makes the body sweat, which in turn cools it down, hot salsas and curries are popular foods among pregnant females.
That leaves us with just one aspect of pregnancy cravings that has yet to be explained: weird food combinations. If you have ever seen a pregnant female raid the fridge, you'll know that some of the gastronomic creations they can come up with are mind boggling, to say the least.
While there isn't a whole lot of scientific research out there to explain the pickles-and-Cheez-Whiz phenomenon, some pregnancy experts believe this derives from an evolutionary desire to provide babies with the widest range of nutrients possible.
Sure, peanut butter and ham sandwiches don't provide a whole lot of nutrients, but back in the day of hunter-gatherers (before processed cheese, pickles and deli ham existed), weird food combos featured a lot more naturally occurring ingredients. So a pregnant female's dinner of soup and Cheetos could be the modern day remnants of a centuries-old craving for meat and berries with a side of milk.
At the end of the day, there are a whole lot of factors that go into pregnancy cravings, and understanding what these cravings mean can help a pregnant female better understand what the heck their body is going through. So, the next time you or a pregnant female you know is yearning for a bowl of ice cream and beef jerky, just let it happen.