Being pregnant

Are pregnancy cravings safe?

Emergency food cravings are common among expectant mothers. But which ones are safe to indulge in during pregnancy?

By Ellen Desjardins, MHSc, RD, Public Health Nutritionist
pregnancy cravings Photo: iStockphoto

What is a craving? An irresistible urge to eat — not just any food — but a specific kind of food. A craving for carrot sticks is one thing, but sweet cravings are often accompanied by feelings of guilt, as if it is somehow sinful to indulge. However, if your normal diet contains a variety of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits (fresh or dried) and dairy products, then an occasional sweet should be no problem. One thing seems certain: It is probably better to satisfy a strong craving than try to ignore it.

The question is: How? Are some sweeteners more nutritious than others? Which non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners are safe in pregnancy? How can you eat sweets without getting too many additional calories? All-natural sweeteners, including white or brown sugar, maple or corn syrup, honey or molasses, contain about the same number of calories. Fructose — found in all fruits and in large quantities in honey, prunes and apples — digests somewhat more slowly than refined white sugar, and this is especially helpful in pregnancy.

Aspartame (“Nutrasweet” or “Equal”) and sucralose (“Splenda”) are sugar substitutes which are several hundred times sweeter than white sugar, so they can be present in tiny quantities to give a sweet flavour. They do not cause the same blood sugar response as natural sugars do. Both are deemed safe in pregnancy, in normal amounts, and can now be used in cooking and baking.

Saccharin is approved in Canada only as a table-top sweetener. Saccharin and digestive products of aspartame cross the placenta and linger in the fetus, and therefore should be used in moderation.

Foods that are both sweet and fatty and/or starchy are high in calories. When you crave such foods, think of ways to limit the amount you are going to eat before that feeding frenzy hits! These are some strategies suggested by pregnant women: buy ice cream in small containers; wrap brownies, cookies or cake slices individually and freeze; ask for half portions of dessert when eating out. And be active, as often as you can.

If you are dedicated to meeting your sweet craving with nutritious foods, try these: yogurt, tofu desserts or beverages, whole grain muffins with dates, carrots, pineapple, raisins, apples or berries, dried fruit compote, trail mix or muesli, yogurt-coated nuts, fruit leathers, sesame squares or oatmeal bars. A final word on chocolate: Women know this is in another category altogether. Keep small amounts on hand for emergency cravings!


This article was originally published on December 2011. 

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