Pregnancy: Cravings and nutrients guide

Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

Pregnancy is an exciting time and, for many, wondrously strange, too! The amazing changes that our bodies go through, coupled with the weird and wonderful cravings we experience make for an interesting time, to say the least. But just what is it that causes such intense cravings?

Experts are still to come to any concrete conclusions as to what causes pregnant women to crave particular foods, especially ones that they previously never ate or even liked. Still, the research points towards a change in hormones, a heightened sense of taste and smell, and nutritional deficiencies.

For many, it makes sense to think of cravings as the baby’s way of getting the mother to take in what it needs to have its own nutritional needs fulfilled. That said, research also uncovers that cravings are reported very differently across cultures; for example, the most commonly craved food in Japan is rice, whereas women in the US and UK are more prone to desire salty, higher-fat foods.

Pickles, anyone?

No matter what your particular cravings may be, it’s essential to prioritize maintaining a healthy weight and a nutritious diet while pregnant. The classic pickle craving among a reported 90% of pregnant women has long been a source of curiosity, and while there is no definitive explanation, experts believe it stems from the need to replenish key nutrients, such as sodium and magnesium.

Some pregnant women find meeting their craving needs becomes burdensome, and it can help to introduce some variety (and in some cases, healthier options), such as dill pickle-seasoned popcorn, or plain salted potato chips cooked in avocado oil instead of any nasty oil alternatives.

Staying hydrated

Of course, it is always vitally important to stay well hydrated, but this is even more critical during pregnancy, especially if you find yourself constantly reaching for salty foods. Water helps circulate nutrients around the body, aids digestion, and helps to form the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus.

‘The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that drinking 8 – 12 cups of water every day is advised during pregnancy, and it’s obviously best that this water is clean and pure spring water (with naturally occurring minerals) for optimal health advantages. For those who dislike drinking plain water, there are a variety of healthy options infused with flavors to make it even more enjoyable to hydrate well.

Key nutrients during pregnancy

While all nutrients play an important role in our health and that of an unborn baby, there are six key nutrients that are crucial for the optimal growth and development of a baby during pregnancy. These are:

Folic acid

Folic acid is a type of B vitamin that every cell in the human body needs for healthy development. Folic acid can be found in foods such as green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits and whole foods, and some foods are fortified with folic acid, such as bread and cereals.

Taking folic acid both before and during the early stage of pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), which are birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. Some research also shows that folic acid could prevent other birth defects of the heart and mouth (such as cleft lip).

Before pregnancy and while trying to fall pregnant, the recommended daily dose of folic acid is 400 mcg, increasing to 600 mcg daily during pregnancy. Higher doses may be necessary if your baby is at higher risk of developing an NTD (i.e., if you or your partner have an NTD), but you must consult with a doctor before taking elevated doses.


Iron is a mineral that our body uses to make hemoglobin, a vital protein that carries oxygen around the body. During pregnancy, women need to take in twice as much iron as normal to help with the extra work of carrying oxygen to the baby and for the baby to begin making its own blood.

Iron is rich in foods such as lean meat and poultry, seafood, leafy greens, and iron-fortified options such as cereals, bread, and pasta. The recommended daily dose of elemental iron during pregnancy is 30 mg to 60 mg.


Calcium is an essential mineral for helping a baby’s heart, bones, teeth, muscles, and nerves to develop healthily. Expectant mothers should take in 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, broccoli, and calcium-fortified options such as some orange juice varieties.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, and provides support to the muscles, immune and nervous systems. Vitamin D also helps a baby’s teeth and bones to grow.

Most experts agree that a daily dose of 1,000 – 2,000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D is safe and optimal during pregnancy. Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish and foods fortified with Vitamin D, such as cereals and milk.


Iodine is a mineral that supports our body in making thyroid hormones, helping us to store and use energy derived from the food we eat. Iodine is also essential in supporting the healthy development of an unborn baby’s nervous system.

During pregnancy, the recommended daily dose of iodine is around 250 mcg. Good food sources of iodine include milk, cheese, yogurt, fish, iodized salt, and iodine-fortified foods.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of fat (otherwise known as omega-3 fatty acids) that supports growth and development. When pregnant, DHA is essential to support the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. The daily minimum recommended dose of DHA for pregnant women is 300 mg.

Foods rich in DHA include salmon, trout, herring, anchovies, and those with DHA added to them, such as some dairy products and orange juice varieties.

Final thoughts

Indulge in your cravings as much as maintaining a healthy balance will allow, and consult with your doctor if you are concerned. If you experience extreme cravings, it’s best to get checked out to ensure your and your baby’s nutritional needs are being met.

Emila Smith is a freelance blogger. She loves writing about parenting, gardening includes houseplants and this is the place where her creativity sparks.