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Decoding the (Nom, Nom, Nom) Food Cravings

By Charlene O'Hanlon

When I was pregnant with my first child, I craved comfort food: grilled cheese sandwiches, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, homemade soups, rocky road ice cream. Those things obviously didn't help with my waistline, but after coming home from work each night stressed a little more than I probably should have been, the comfort food put me in a place where I could focus on getting ready for baby and adjust to the idea of being a parent.

Cravings during pregnancy are as unique as the parents-to-be craving them, and it's not just the one who's pregnant: it has been documented that some partners take on pregnancy symptoms including mood swings, food cravings and even morning sickness.

But while there's no medical evidence to suggest cravings point to deficiencies in your diet, some theorize they are ways to make sure you're getting what you need nutritionally.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, pregnant women should be getting an additional 200 to 300 extra calories daily. But having a bag of potato chips is not the way to add calories-ACOG recommends "nutrient-dense" foods such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grain products.

If your cravings seem excessive or odd (even for a pregnant person), check with your doctor to make sure there's no underlying condition.

Here's a quick rundown of the most popular cravings, and what they could mean:

Ice: Pregnancy makes a person thirsty - aside from keeping her own internal processes humming along, a pregnant woman's body is hosting another human being, which means she needs at least twice as much water daily than non-pregnant people. Craving ice could mean you're not getting enough water: The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 cups of fluids daily. So enjoy those ice cubes, but be careful not to hurt your teeth. Better yet, grab a glass of water - or two.

Salty food: Your body could be telling you to increase your sodium level, which makes sense: an increase in blood volume during pregnancy raises the need for sodium. Just don't go overboard, or you could find yourself with swollen ankles and fingers.

Sweets: For most, this could be your brain telling you to relax and enjoy your pregnancy - forget the adage, "A second on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." You're pregnant, for crying out loud! You deserve that extra piece of cake. Or piece of chocolate (just remember to include it as part of your daily caffeine intake). Or, for me, ice cream, which I attributed to the body's need for extra calcium. Just don't go overboard, or you could regret all those extra indulgences.

Fruit: Who doesn't love fruit salad (yummy yummy)? Fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals, and it can help quell the craving for sweets. Plus, fruit provides that spike in blood sugar - something I know I needed come 3 p.m. every day.

Spicy food: I did not crave anything spicy - in fact, with my heartburn, I stayed far away from anything that might upset my stomach. But for some, craving for spicy food such as chili peppers is the body's way of cooling down. Spicy foods can make you sweat, which cools the body. And when you're pregnant, keeping cool can be paramount no matter what season it is.

Bottom line: If you're craving something, listen to what your body is telling you. Often it's easy to figure out. And most likely, your body will thank you.

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