Monday, May 23, 2011

Paleo + pregnancy cravings: Can the two co-exist?

Ever since I announced my pregnancy, people have been asking me questions. One of the most frequent: Any cravings?

When I say no, it is a surprise. It is almost as if people don't believe me! After all, aren't cravings a standard pregnancy feature?

Before I had first-hand experience with pregnancy, I assumed so. Now, however, I have my doubts. I mean, I don't doubt that many women experience cravings. I believe they do. But I do not believe that cravings are out of our control. And I do believe that with proper nutrition we can avoid them altogether (and we should avoid them altogether, because Taco Bell's Fourth Meal is never ever a wise choice -- pregnant or not).

My experience with pregnancy cravings
Before I explain, let me say a little more about my personal experience. In the days immediately following the confirmation of my pregnancy, I really enjoyed spicy red salsa. So much so, that I ate with a spoon straight from the jar. I did correlate this with pregnancy because, even though I love spicy red salsa, I have never eaten it straight from the jar with a spoon before. That same week, I also decided that hot chocolate was irresistible. Because I couldn't stop thinking about it, I indulged. I ordered the 8-oz. kid-sized one and enjoyed every drop. A few days later, I caved in again -- but after two or three sips, I was done. The hot chocolate went into the trash can, and I haven't wanted one since. I'm over the salsa, too.

These two incidents are about the closest I've personally experienced to cravings. But is that because of paleo?

According to Amy Kubal, M.S., a dietitian who specializes in paleo nutrition, the answer is yes.

"There is definitely something to be said for lack of cravings and diet pattern," Amy says, citing a recent study in the journal Obesity, which indicated that avoiding high-carb junk food reduces the desire for such foods over time."Eating paleo prior to and during pregnancy means that the foods being eaten are healthy, nutrient dense choices opposed to the high carbohydrate, high sugar and other junk foods. The non-exposure to (junk) likely helps decrease cravings for them."

As for the women who do experiencing cravings, they are probably including nutrient-void options in their diets regularly and therefore are more likely to crave them during pregnancy, says Amy, who runs the blog Fuel as RX and also offers nutritional consulting services (check out her consulting page on Robb Wolf's web site).

Interesting! Of course, I'm not surprised. I am glad, though, to have a dietitian back up my hypothesis. Other moms back me up, too. Moms like Peggy from Denver, Colorado, who wrote about her paleo pregnancy on her super-informative blog, The Primal Parent.

Peggy's perspective
Like me, Peggy didn't experience cravings while pregnant.

"A close non-paleo friend of mine had cravings all over the place and I always wondered when mine would set in, but they never did," says Peggy, whose daughter is now five. "I remember one week she was craving peaches like crazy. I thought peaches sounded really good, so I bought some, too. Naturally, they were super good in the middle of summer, so I bought some more. I remember thinking that was the closet to cravings I was going to come."

I also asked Peggy about her thoughts on why pregnant women who are not paleo experience such intense cravings. I love what she had to say, and love that she has the courage to say it (I feel the same way, but so far have been too concerned about ruffling the feathers of my non-paleo friends -- something I really shouldn't worry about)!

"The first (reason), and this may be the biggest problem, is cultural. Women believe that pregnancy is some kind of license to eat whatever you want because you need the extra calories for the baby and because as a pregnant woman you are supposed to gain weight. These beliefs are both nonsense. I certainly expected to gain weight, though I never did," she says (on a side note, I believe Peggy is referring to weight that is above and beyond what the body actually needs to sustain the pregnancy -- obviously the baby itself and things like blood volume, etc., are going to add some temporary pounds).

The other reason, she explains, is more scientific.

"Once a person starts eating more sugar and grains, a lot of things start happening to the body. One is that the pathogenic bacteria in the gut flourish, causing deficiencies and cravings. Opioids in the brain cause an addiction to high glycemic foods, which leads to more cravings," she says, adding that paleo helps eliminate cravings because it stabilizes hormones and provides plenty of healthy dietary fat (in case you didn't get the memo -- fat, like the fat found in avocado, coconut, grass-fed beef, fish, nuts and olive oil, is good for you and you need a lot of it!).

Coping with cravings
With all of this said, I realize this is my first pregnancy and I really don't know exactly what I will experience over the next five months. What I do know, however, is even if I do wind up experiencing cravings I will not give in to them. Nobody needs high carb junk food. And, like Peggy pointed out, pregnancy is not a license to indulge. Not only is it bad for our bodies, it is bad for our growing babies! Besides, there are plenty of strategies out there to help cope with any cravings that do come up. Here are a few tips, courtesy of Amy Kubal:
  • Always choose healthy paleo foods and never allow yourself to get ravenous.
  • If you find yourself with an overwhelming desire to eat a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, take a few minutes and decide if that is what you really want. Then, eat a healthy snack with some protein, good carbs and fat.
  • Go for a walk or engage in another activity: it will help get your mind off the temptation.
  • Think about all the good things you are doing for yourself and your baby by nourishing your body with "clean burning fuel."

So, what is the general consensus out there? Did you experience pregnancy cravings while following paleo? I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Cravings are not always for unhealthy food. I craved red meat and apples throughout my whole first pregnancy, though I had never cared for either before. And you are right, if it is a craving for empty calories, it should definately be resisted!

  2. I agree that cravings are not always for junk food. One of my friends craved grapefruit! With cravings like yours, your body probably wanted more iron and all of the other good stuff you get from red meat (and the good stuff you get from apples) so it would make sense to add those things into your diet. That doesn't mean cravings have to be a standard part of pregnancy, though. Once the diet is fine-tuned, cravings are probably going to go away -- pregnant or not.

  3. Hi Dawn! Love this site. I went Paleo in mid-2010, got pregnant (due 10/31), committed to a Paleo pregnancy, started a blog ( and then... as soon as I went back to work in March...abandoned ship :) Turns out a good blog is a job of its own!

    I lost my appetite for most Paleo foods, started having "just a little" carby-shitty white foods to "get by" and then got re-acclamated to them. At work (an urban low-income college)I was surrounded by cheap food that I suddenly craved (bagels, pizza) - I feel like I went NUTS. (In reality, I still ate well 70% of the time, but for me that's embarrassingly bad).

    Now, at 17/18 weeks, I've been back on the clean Paleo lifestyle for a little bit and I'm feeling so much better. I wish I'd leaned more on Sweet Potatoes to survive those queesy weeks!!!

    Glad to find your site!!! I'll be routing for you from NYC!

  4. P.S. Made my first blog post in almost 3 months (inspired by you) and linked to your site.

  5. Hi Lizzie -- Thank you! And congratulations to you too! We're due right around the same time. I'm going to go read your blog right now. It is so cool to know there are others going through the same thing.

  6. I"m about a month in on Paleo, and found out recently I'm 3 weeks pregnant. I hardly have symptoms, only a bit tired and bloating. No cravings, or nausea...Dawn can you tell me what else you felt in your initial weeks pregnant? Because i"m a little freaked that I'm not experiencing text book symptoms.

    Thank you.

  7. I was one of those who didn't have any cravings during pregnancy, either. I also didn't have aversions. Matter of fact I didn't really have a whole heck of a lot of pregnancy "symptoms" when pregnant.

    I attribute that all to eating Paleo.

  8. Hi Lillian,
    Congratulations on your pregnancy! In my early weeks, I felt pretty good. I did have some nausea, but nothing severe. It was the nausea that clued me in to the fact that I was pregnant. I was very convinced that I was not pregnant, actually. But, one day I felt queasy after working out so I took a pregnancy test. That explained it. Other than that, I was tired. But, nothing else. The nausea didn't stick around for long. I'm glad you're feeling well, and if you are sticking to paleo that probably explains it. It is my understanding that morning sickness and all those other symptoms are the result of hormones going crazy. Paleo regulates hormones and I'm sure this carries over into pregnancy, which would diminish if not elminate morning sickness, etc. I totally understand the anxiety/freaking out, though! We're taught that we are supposed to feel a certain way while pregnant, and when we don't it is only natural to wonder what is going on. Rest assured that most likely, you are feeling good because you are focused on good nutrition.

  9. I've been paleo for less than a year but immediately felt the benefits (have pcos) and swore that if I ever got pregnant I would stick with paleo. Of course 4 weeks ago I got the flu for the first time in years and could literally only stomach bread and butter (kerry gold, of course) despite my best efforts. Then I found out I was also pregnant (6 weeks...yay!!!) And can really only handle fruits, vegies, nuts and carbs....ugh!!!! I just read this post and got inspired to really try to eat clean and paleo from this point forward. Thanks for inspiring me!


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