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It seems that they occur mainly in western countries and depend on psychosocial and cultural factors
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A pregnant woman with an assortment of sweets
Whether the cravings of pregnant women have a scientific basis or are due more to psychosocial issues is something that is not very clear, among other things because there has not been exhaustive research on it.
What is certain is that it affects a good number of women during pregnancy. In the United States, specifically, where some studies have been carried out, it is considered that between 50 and 90% of pregnant women experience them.
It is also known that it is common in many countries, especially developed ones, and that although there are certain coincidences about what you want to eat in that state, it also changes according to the eating habits of each place. While in western countries sweets predominate, in Japan, for example, pregnant women are dying for rice.
But going back to the demonstrable facts, in the magazine Frontiers in Psychology , endorsed by the US government, where these figures on affected women are published, it is also stated that there are very few who only have cravings during pregnancy; most experienced them before as well. Especially just before menstruation, when the desire for chocolate grows exponentially.
Given that not enough research has been done on this topic, there is some speculation about the reasons that during pregnancy the almost irrepressible desire to eat certain foods occurs in many women.
Because it is not about satiating an excessive hunger with anything, nor by healthy and nutritious food, but it is clearly specified what it is that is craved, and it is usually not recommended food.
Between 50 and 90% of pregnant women in the US experience some type of craving
You could even make a kind of ranking, on the main objects of desire. According to studies compiled by Frontiers in Psychology, tastes change over time.
In the most recent, drawn from the personal experiences of some 200 women, the main cravings would be sweets in general, including chocolate and ice cream; and very tasty and high-calorie foods, such as pizza, French fries, and junk food. Next are animal proteins and high-calorie fruits and dairy, such as cheese and cream.
Hormonal changes affect taste and smell
The nutritionist doctor Guadalupe Blay points out the hormonal changes inherent in pregnancy as a motivation for this sudden need to eat something in particular.
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“Some studies have concluded that you have more cravings when you are pregnant with a boy than with a girl. And it is probably due to the hormonal differences between the mother and the male baby ”, explains the doctor.
And she adds that “it is not that the combination of estrogens, progesterone and androgens causes these desires, but that these hormones affect sensory perceptions, specifically taste and smell.” According to one study, 26% of the participants said they had noticed changes in taste and 65% in smell during their pregnancy.
That is, the taste and smell of food is perceived in a different way and that can lead to enjoying some that were previously detested, or on the contrary, delighting with others that were never eaten.
Some studies have concluded that you feel more cravings when you are pregnant with a boy than with a girl
One possible explanation is that it could be a defense mechanism of the body to protect pregnant women and their fetuses from ingesting potentially toxic foods. But there are no conclusive studies to corroborate it.
Dr. Blay comments that she has experienced this feeling herself. “I have the habit of having a little chocolate after eating, but I remember that during my pregnancies I was incapable, because the taste was unpleasant to me.”
First strong flavors, then sweet and finally, salty
Another aspect that has been investigated, although not exhaustively, is when cravings usually appear, which is not in the first weeks of pregnancy, but at the end of the first trimester. It peaks over the next three months and declines toward the end of the cycle.
It has also been found that the majority of women who already had cravings without being pregnant, opt for sweets, while those who only experience them at that stage, prefer strong, salty and vinegary flavors.
A pregnant woman eats pickled gherkins
It has also been studied which ones are asked for more in the different phases of pregnancy. In the first trimester, those with strong flavor; in the second, the sweet ones and in the third the salty ones.
Another of the most frequent explanations of this issue is that cravings are motivated by a nutritional deficit, that is, the body demands something that it lacks.
“I tend to trust that nature is wise and I think the body often asks you for what it lacks,” says Dr. Bay. This hypothesis is justified in some cases. “Among the foods that cause cravings are dairy, and it could be that the body is asking for them to compensate for the high demand for calcium during pregnancy. There is also a certain tendency towards alkalis, probably to reduce the acidity that is usually associated with pregnancy. ”
Chocolate to alleviate all ills
As for chocolate, explains Dr. Blay, it is plausible that the irrepressible desire to eat it may be due “to the fact that it releases endorphins, which help combat the depressive state sometimes associated with pregnancy.”
Milk chocolate and dark chocolate tablets
It is one of the most studied topics, because it also affects women just before menstruation. 50% of Americans say they feel a need for cocoa at that time. One possible rationale is that certain molecules in chocolate, including caffeine, trigger cravings to relieve bothersome menstrual symptoms.
But scientists have doubts, because they consider that the amount of caffeine and other of those molecules that the most common doses of chocolate contain are not enough to influence these symptoms. And an experiment on the issue carried out in the United States seems to prove them right.
A study ruled out that cravings are driven by the specific nutritional needs of pregnant women
They gave a closed box to a group of women to open and eat what was inside when they felt an irrepressible desire to do so. Some contained milk chocolate, which has practically all the nutrients of that food, as well as a smooth and pleasant texture; others, white chocolate, which does not have the solid nutrients of cocoa, but does have a sweet taste and an emotional experience, and the latter kept pure cocoa pills, with all its nutrients, but without providing something pleasant when ingested. < / p>
The one that had the most success was the white, which rules out that nutritional needs are what marks that craving, because if that were the case, the cocoa pods would have been more in demand.
Much sweet tooth and little vegetables
It is evident that chocolate is not the most nutritious food, and less so if a new life is being created, but as has been explained, sweets, salty snacks, junk food and pickles are more in demand by pregnant women than chocolate itself, even though they are unhealthy foods.
If logic is applied, pregnant women should need food that provides essential micronutrients for a proper functioning of the body, that is, green leafy vegetables, legumes and others rich in minerals, folic acid, vitamins, iron … But it is not the case.
In addition, as the weeks pass and the fetus grows, it needs more nutritional intake to form, and instead, as already mentioned, the demand for cravings decreases in the last stage of the process.
So other explanations are sought. And cultural and social factors seem to have a role. It is worth remembering that in Spain, not so long ago, there was a belief (bordering on the superstitious) that the spots on the skin with which many babies are born were shaped like the unsatisfied cravings of their mothers during pregnancy. p>
The psychological also has its reason for being. The woman is in a very particular state, with changes at all levels, and both she and hers close to her tend to be indulgent with whims. P>
Cravings themselves are not a danger to pregnancy, but excess weight
That the couple satisfy them, under the conditions and at any time, is a way of offering special care to the pregnant woman. And she believes she deserves it for the effort it means to create a new life.
The cravings themselves do not pose a danger to pregnancy, as long as they are controlled. Because one of the main drawbacks during this process is excess weight. And since the foods object of desire are usually the most caloric, it can represent a problem, both for the pregnant woman and the fetus, not to resist food whims.
If they are, they must be controlled.If ice cream is desired, it can be reduced to just a few tablespoons a day. And if it is chocolate, opt for one of good quality and in small doses. Other specialists advise diverting attention with methods such as yoga or meditation, or doing some pleasant activity that acts as a substitute.
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