Junk Food Cravings

Pregnancy is certainly not the easiest time in your life, and it’s fine to indulge yourself occasionally. It’s not unusual to crave specific foods when you’re pregnant. In fact, studies say that up to 90 percent of expectant moms experience food cravings. If you happen to crave green beans or broccoli, that’s great. But what if you have a constant craving for chocolate or potato chips?

Keep in mind that sometimes your cravings are a sign that something else is going on. You may be tired or depressed or have lower blood sugar, for instance. While a chocolate bar might give you a brief jolt of energy or lift your spirits momentarily, it won’t help the underlying problem — and it may actually make it worse in the long run.

What happens is that as we feel tired, we turn to high-carbohydrate snacks like sweets, crackers, or chips to provide a quick energy lift. But because our bodies quickly turn bread, cookies, and other carbohydrates into sugar, our blood sugar rises, then may quickly plummet again, leaving us more tired than before. In addition, because low blood sugar triggers a release of adrenaline, the blood sugar roller coaster can lead to crankiness, irritability, and other mood swings.

How do you satisfy your snack cravings without triggering a blood sugar rush and crash? Try embarking on an overall eating strategy aimed at keeping your blood sugar relatively steady throughout the day. Here’s how:

  • Eat breakfast. It’s common sense (and the advice of every nutritionist) — if you don’t start your day well fueled, you’re just heading for a fall. Most people enjoy some kind of cereal, bread, or other carbohydrates in the morning, but make sure your first meal of the day includes some protein as well.
  • Exercise every day. The American Dietetic Association now recommends that all pregnant women engage in some form of moderate exercise every day — as long as the doctor okays it. Exercise is one of the best ways to keep blood sugar steady, maintain regular digestion, and prevent excess weight gain.
  • Eat small portions. Instead of eating a big lunch, then feeling like you can’t keep your eyes open, eat just half your sandwich at lunch and wrap up the other half for an afternoon snack. If you just can’t make it through the afternoon without chocolate, have one square rather than a whole bar.
  • Make smart trade-offs. Snacking is actually a good thing when you’re pregnant. It can help you fight off morning sickness and keep up your energy throughout the day. But what you eat can make the difference between feeling as though you can go the distance and feeling as though you can’t make it through the day. Here are some healthy substitutes for junk food snacks:

What you should be snacking on

  • Instead of white bread, try whole grain pita bread or crackers, bread sticks, or tortillas
  • Sub a slice of reduced-fat or soy cheese, or a dollop of hummus, for regular high-fat cheese
  • Spread some peanut butter on celery sticks or apples
  • Help yourself to frozen berries or fresh fruit salad rather than canned fruit
  • Rather than ice cream, have a small bowl of nonfat frozen yogurt, sorbet, or sherbet
  • Replace those sodas with mineral water spiced up by lemon or fruit juice
  • Instead of a doughnut or pastry, check out the whole-grain muffins at your local farmers market
  • Substitute low-fat banana bread for ultra-rich cake
  • Have oatmeal or whole grain cereal instead of sugary flakes
  • And instead of potato or tortilla chips, have some pretzels, microwave popcorn or baked chips

Remember, if your snack snaps and crinkles, it is probably not good for you!


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What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway. Workman Publishing Company, Inc.

Yale University. Department of Psychiatry. What Is Winter Depression?

American Heart Association. Carbohydrate Addiction.


Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Craving, tired and blue: Do you recognize this cycle? Meg Jordan. American Fitness. January/February 2004.

Nemours Foundation. When Blood Sugar Is Too Low.
Mayo Clinic. Healthy Digestion: Keeping on Track.

American Dietetic Association. Nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. http://www.eatright.org/Member/PolicyInitiatives/index_21036.cfm

Merck Manual. Obesity. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch156/ch156a.html

March of Dimes. Fatigue. 2010. http://www.marchofdimes.com/

American Heart Association. Eating Plan: Snacks. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1001

American Heart Association. Eating Plan: Desserts. http://www.americanheart.org/

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