Sunday, January 10, 2010

Food Cravings & Aversions During Pregnancy

I might be having a vegan pregnancy, but I'm not sheltered from the usual symptoms: "morning" sickness (my version is nausea all day, at its worst in the evenings), disturbed sleep, exhaustion, food cravings, food aversions, and being emotional (earlier today, I found myself laughing and sobbing simultaneously).

I'm almost at my 13th week, a time when the less comfortable aspects of pregnancy ought to be ebbing. But for me, not yet! Hopefully soon.

Being a dietitian and all, I've heard some pretty strange stories of food cravings and food aversions. I have come to the conclusion that there is no "normal" or "abnormal" -- we are all different. Each pregnancy is different too. When I was pregnant with Ben, I ate hummus on a toasted sesame bagel with a thick slice of tomato... almost every day. This pregnancy, I can't even look at hummus! With Ben, I craved minestrone soup all the time; I couldn't get enough. Now, I can take it or leave it.

The surprise craving for me these days is INDIAN FOOD. I dream about rich aloo chole, crisp samosas dipped in thick tamarind chutney, roti stuffed with vegetables, and hot, flavorful dahl with ghee-free nan for dipping. Unfortunately, cooking makes me nauseated. But even if it didn't, I cannot cook Indian food like they do at the restaurants. And it's unrealistic for me to eat out very often. One product that satisfies my craving and requires no dining out or cooking is a frozen Indian burger from Trader Joes, called Vegetable Masala Burgers. They are So. Good.

Do you know of any healthful, easy-to-prepare Indian specialties? I've tried those meals-in-a-pouch and find them a bit too spicy. I like flavorful, but mild on the spicy scale.

I get a lot of questions about diet during pregnancy. Is it ok, for example, to feed our cravings, or should we stick to a meal plan? If we crave something, does that mean that it has some nutrient our body needs?

Here's my take on these questions. First, for the most part, I think it's fine to feed our cravings. That said, we have to look at the "craved" food amongst the big picture. So if I'm craving cherry coke, it's really not ok to have a 2-liter bottle every day and little else. But if I'm craving raw cauliflower, it IS ok to eat massive amounts every day. Trying to include healthful foods around the craved foods is really a good approach.

If I'm craving a food, is it because my body needs some nutrient it contains? No, probably not. It's nice to think that our bodies are THAT smart, but unless you're in a dire state of starvation, your cravings are probably a result of your preferences. There's no evidence to suggest that your potato chip craving is your body's way of getting its much-needed sodium, or that a magnesium deficiency explains your yen for chocolate.

What about food aversions? Should you eat your greens (my biggest aversion, when cooked anyway), even though they make you want to vomit? I vote NO. I have, unfortunately, many food aversions with this pregnancy. And many are healthful foods (although I have aversions to many junk foods as well). Forcing down foods that we are averse to you will just make mealtimes that much more unpleasant. If you have committed to eating 5 veggies a day but a pile of veggies makes you sick, give yourself a break. Eat more fruits, or eat a salad (if you crave it) or get Chinese sesame tofu with some chopped veggies if you can stomach that. As a health-conscious vegan, you already have a nutritional edge over folks (believe me, there are so many) whose main source of food comes from a drive-through.


Food as Medicine said...

Great post Dina! This is the same message I try to get out to pregnant mamas out there:)

Christina said...

Hi Dina,

I just found your blog by accident. Have you considered hiring a personal chef for your pregnancy?

The chef will come in while you are out, cook, package the food, and all the smells will be gone by the time you return. You could probably find one that specializes in Indian cuisine, and they can alter things to your taste, i.e. low sodium, etc.

I was wondering where you did your coursework for your RD. I am vegan and am finishing my MPH, but I don't have any specialized background in nutrition. I was wondering if there is a program you would recommend. I was looking at a degree in holistic nutrition from Hawthorn University, but it is not traditionally accredited and does not qualify for the RD.