A brief guide to some of the most common foods women crave during a nine-month pregnancy cycle. 

Pickles, grapefruit, and ice cream. A sub-par combination for most, but a delicacy for one with pregnancy cravings. Although women will often experience some type of food cravings or aversions throughout the first, second, and third trimesters of their nine month cycle, little is known as to why women crave certain flavors, textures, and food combinations when expecting but not post-partum.

Top food cravings during pregnancy:

  1. Chili Peppers. Spicy foods are a popular craving among pregnant women. One theory suggests this is because the body is often in need of cooling down during pregnancy. Eating spice generates the effect of cooling down on the body, triggering a craving for a particularly distinct taste.
  2. Dark Chocolate. Both rich with antioxidants and flavour, dark chocolate satisfies pregnancy’s increased caloric needs.

    Woman enjoying a slice of chocolate cake.
  3. Vanilla Ice Cream. Also in line with the idea that the body is always looking to cool down, some suggest ice cream not only satisfies a sweet tooth, but is also high in calcium and iron. This rich ingredient is a popular craving for these nutrients. There are however, other, healthier options available to satiate a craving for calcium or iron (i.e. kale, almonds, fish).

    Woman in sunglasses enjoying a cup of vanilla ice-cream.
  4. Pickles. Along with the usual salty suspects, foods like potato crisps and pickles are a response to an increase in blood volume because they are high in sodium.
  5. Grapefruit. Sour citrus fruits such as lemons, and others such as grapefruit are low in natural sugar and high in vitamins and nutrients like vitamin C. This craving supports the popular hypothesis that the body craves food in which it is deficient.

    Sliced grapefruit on chopping board and plates.
  6. Rice. Starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta, and bread are popular cravings. Rice is a particularly interesting one because some research suggests it is culturally dependent. For instance, women in the Untied States are more likely to crave highly palatable foods such as chocolate, while women in Japan tend to crave rice. This suggests something to do with country specific cultural expectations about food and pregnancy.
  7. Dirt and clay. Yes, sometimes pregnant women crave non-food items such as ice, dirt, clay, soap, or chalk. These are unsafe to consume and may hint towards an iron deficiency. In more extreme cases, where the body cannot obtain certain vitamins or minerals from food substances, the body can develop Pica.

Why do pregnant women get food cravings? 

Woman eating a serving of hot noodles.

Pregnant women with food cravings or aversions does not last post-partum. This begs the question as to why pregnant women have a tendency to change their appetite for certain foods during pregnancy. Here a few hypotheses:

  • A popular suggestion is that pregnant women crave foods they themselves, or the fetus, have a deficiency in. The body craves what it lacks. For instance, a rare craving for citrus fruit such as Oranges might be a lack in Vitamin C, etc. An obvious link is the body increases a need for certain vitamins and minerals during pregnancy and expresses their absence in diet through cravings.
  • Others have suggested cravings and aversions to specific foods also have something to do with the manner in which pregnancy hormones can affect senses such as taste or smell.
Woman enjoying a meal of tacos with chillies.
  • Some scientific research has also suggested that although popular belief looks at biochemical justification for food cravings during pregnancy, they differ from country to country. Women in Japan for instance, had a higher reporting of craving starchy food like rice, whereas women in the United States had a higher case of craving for highly palatable foods such as fries, chocolate, and sweets. Indeed, this suggests cravings may have something to do with physiological factors or culture. This hypothesis challenges the idea that hormone levels influence food cravings.
Woman in pink enjoying ice-cream in a cone.
  • Some old wives tales suggest the baby’s gender has an influence on the types of cravings their mothers have. For instance, citrus cravings have often been associated to girls. Others suggest craving salty foods means the baby is a boy, whereas craving sweet foods means the baby is a girl.
Woman taking a bike into a sour lemon.

Side note: The only legitimate way of predicting a baby’s gender is through a skilled sonographer recommended by your doctor.

Whether a craving for ice cream means the body needs to cool down, or one for lemonade means one is having a baby girl, we still do not know enough about why women crave certain foods when they’re expecting. What is for sure, is that some foods are just not meant to be consumed at the rate some pregnant women crave during their cycle.

A happy couple presenting their sonogram.


Dear Dr Benson,

Why do I crave chocolate?

Food cravings are thought to be due to external prompts and our emotional state, rather than actual hunger.

We tend to be bored, anxious, or depressed immediately before experiencing cravings, so one way of explaining cravings is self-medication for feeling miserable.

…One way of explaining cravings is self-medication for feeling miserable.

Chocolate does contain a variety of substances, many of which can have the effect of improving our mood.

Sugar and fat are obvious, both of which stimulate the hypothalamus, inducing pleasurable sensations by increasing levels of serotonin(a brain chemical that is also increased by the use of anti-depressant medications). 

High levels of the amino acid Tryptophanis also relevant, as it can be used by the brain to make serotonin

The chemical known as Theobromineis also known to have a mood-elevating effect (and can be quite toxic to dogs and cats, which is why pets should never be fed chocolate). 

Chocolate has also been shown to contain N-acylethanolamines which may result in heightened sensitivity and euphoria… possibly explaining chocolate’s aphrodisiac reputation!

Chocolate… may result in heightened sensitivity and euphoria… possibly explaining chocolate’s aphrodisiac reputation!

However it is also interesting to know that such chemicals are also contained in other less appealing foods such as broccoli.

So it may be the combination of chocolate’s sensory characteristics — sweetness, texture and aroma — that largely explain chocolate cravings…