Reassurance about food cravings in pregnancy
Hill et al 2015
The effect of maternal nutrition during pregnancy has far reaching influence on the life-long health of the baby and possibly subsequent generations. As a result, studies investigating the eating habits and nutrient intake of pregnant women can yield important information that is relevant at population level.
Food cravings in pregnancy are widely reported as experienced by a substantial proportion of women with the prevalence varying with stage of pregnancy and reporting methods. From a popular viewpoint, there seems to be interest in food cravings that varies from exaggeration – “… the best and worst parts of pregnancy …”, through amusement – “… and so my husband went to the all-night garage to buy more chocolate at 03.30 …”, to competitive web-sharing of unusual eating – “… honestly, pickled onions and toffee ice cream…”. However from a health perspective, an examination of the impact of food cravings on gestational nutrition is important and worthy of investigation.
A recent study, published in JHND by Alison Hill and colleagues from the University of Ulster, provides insight into the prevalence and types of foods craved during pregnancy and relates these to anthropometric, clinical and dietary intake variables in >1600 women during pregnancy. The study utilised records collected from the Belfast arm of the multi-centred Hyperglycaemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome (HAPO) study. These included a validated food frequency questionnaire and interrogation of energy intake data using the Goldberg cut-offs – in other words, good quality checks were in place. The results identified the most commonly craved foods were sweets items, like chocolate, experienced by 35% of women whilst spicy food, including curry, was amongst the least popular at 3%. Foods that are considered important in pregnancy, for example fruit, vegetables, dairy and protein foods (including meat), were craved by 13%, 4%, 8% and 8% of women respectively. The mean energy intake of women with food cravings was slightly but significantly higher than those without cravings, even after excluding participants who under-reported (10131 ± 2875 vs 9745 ± 2558 kJ, p=0.008). However, there were no other significant differences between the two groups in terms of other nutrient intakes, maternal health outcomes (e.g. weight gain or HbA1c) or neonatal outcomes (e.g. birth weight, length and head circumference).
Whilst these findings differ from other published studies, the authors conclude that these results from this large group of women provide no evidence that food cravings in pregnancy are associated with altered overall dietary intake and that the small increase in energy intake was not associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. Hopefully this provides reassurance to women who may experience food cravings whilst not encouraging over-indulgence and also highlights the importance of eating well during pregnancy.
Editorial Board Member
University of Hertfordshire, UK