Nothing hints “I’m pregnant!” more than a craving for pickles (with or without the ice cream). Aside from being delicious, is there any scientific reason that expecting women often find themselves crunching on the crisp, salty veggie?
There are quite a few possible reasons as to why pregnant women crave pickles, including hormones, nutrient deficiencies, psychologically reinforcing ingredients, and culture. While there is no one definitive cause, pickle cravings are not only popular but a completely normal part of pregnancy.
Knowing that pickle cravings are definitely ‘a thing,’ many women also wonder if this particular craving can mean something more, such as the baby’s gender. I’ll help you sift through the science and get to the bottom of your pickle cravings!
Do Pregnant Women REALLY Crave Pickles? Is It True?
Cravings are an incredibly normal, even expected, part of pregnancy with as many as 90% of pregnant women reporting cravings (source: Frontiers in Psychology).
Pickle and other food cravings are safe and distinct from the condition pica, where the body craves possibly unsafe non-food items such as toothpaste or soil (source: American Pregnancy Association).
Note: If you are craving or eating non-food items, including substances such as cornstarch and baking soda, please contact your medical provider.
It is no secret that pickles are one of the most commonly craved foods. Out of curiosity, I did an internet search for the most common pregnancy cravings, and pickles consistently ranked in the top 10 craved foods.
Interestingly, cravings for salty foods, like pickles, are more often seen in later pregnancy. Women who don’t typically get food cravings outside of pregnancy (like chocolate cravings around the time of their menstrual cycle) are also more likely to crave salty foods over sweet ones (source: Frontiers in Psychology).
Even for women (and some men!) who aren’t pregnant, pickle cravings are incredibly common. This craving makes sense, as the snack is similar to chips/crisps with the added bonus of being refreshing and cool during warmer months.
The Reasons Why Pregnant Women Crave Pickles
The same well-known article in Frontiers in Psychology that I linked to above put forward four hypotheses for why pregnant women experience such strong pickle cravings.
Here, I’ll walk you through each of their four possible reasons, as the writers provided a comprehensive and quite encompassing look at pregnancy cravings not found in other research.
1) Hormonal changes.
It is no secret that hormones change like crazy during pregnancy, after all, these changes are what help your body grow baby and keep them alive.
Aside from supporting your growing child, these hormone changes can come with some pretty drastic side effects. According to the researchers, one of which is strong cravings.
They liken this to PMS symptoms during menstrual cycles and chocolate cravings near your period. While this seems a reasonable enough answer, research has not connected hormones directly to cravings.
Instead, the writers feel that the hormone changes cause changes in the body’s senses (like taste and smell) which then cause strong food aversions and cravings.
2) The properties of a food’s ingredients or nutrients
This theory goes two different ways: aversions to foods that could be harmful or contain toxic levels of certain nutrients, and cravings for foods that might calm pregnancy symptoms like vomiting.
Researchers have even found a connection between having food cravings and experiencing nausea.
3) Culture, rather than Biology
The writers found that depending on the location of women surveyed, cravings changed to represent foods typical in their locale.
In addition to a difference in craved foods across the globe, the writers went on to say that in countries where there is a higher value placed on female beauty (such as the U.S.), eating ‘forbidden foods’ or those traditionally deemed unhealthy is also more common.
4) Potential Nutritional Deficiency
Finally, the last hypothesis is that cravings for salty pickles might mean you are deficient in a few key nutrients, namely sodium and magnesium.
According to this theory, pickle cravings function much like a survival mechanism, ensuring your body gets the nutrients it and the baby need.
(source: Frontiers in Psychology)
Beyond pickles, salty foods are thought to be craved for a reason similar to the fourth hypothesis in the Frontiers in Psychology article- their sodium content.
During pregnancy, the mother’s blood volume increases to support circulation between her, the placenta, and her baby. Sodium is an important nutrient in the body and maintaining an adequate amount of sodium in the blood is necessary for optimal organ function.
When the mother’s blood volume increases this can dilute her blood, throwing the sodium balance off. An easy way to regain balance of blood-sodium levels? Eating salty foods!
Restricting salt can actually lead to negative effects on the baby’s health, including low birth weight (source: Journal of Biomedical Sciences).
Alternatively, there is some evidence that women who indulged their salty-snack cravings were at a lower risk for gestational diabetes and/or impaired glucose tolerance (source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Regardless of why pregnant women crave pickles, know that this craving is perfectly harmless and you should not feel compelled to try and ‘power through’ or ignore your pickle cravings.
Do Pregnancy Pickle Cravings Mean a Certain Gender?
There is a longstanding myth that certain cravings can give you clues as to your baby’s gender. When it comes to pickles, most rumors floating around online suggest that salty food cravings indicate that you are having a boy!
Though having a guess is always good fun, that is all the basis pickle cravings hold. Unfortunately, craving pickles (or any other salty snacks) does not mean you are carrying a baby boy. But don’t let this stop you from playing fun baby shower guessing games!
What Do Pickle Cravings Mean During Pregnancy?
Other than gender, it is natural to worry that the very strong cravings can signal something is amiss. Often women wonder if pickle cravings mean they are missing an important part of their diet- and according to the fourth hypothesis listed above, it could be true.
Just like you start to feel really thirsty when your body is dehydrated, the thought is that cravings for pickles means your body needs more sodium. Typically, pickles are quite salty and effective at providing rehydration and electrolytes.
If you have played sports in a hot climate before, you may remember drinking (or being offered) pickle juice as a way to avoid dehydration.
While getting enough sodium is important during pregnancy, it is just as likely that your hankering for pickles is just that- a normal and harmless craving that is typically nothing to worry over.
Other food cravings also do not necessarily signify a missing nutrient. Take ice cream for example. While ice cream does contain some nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, cravings for ice cream are considered normal and not indicative of missing nutrients. Pickles are just another delicious snack, after all!
If you’re consistently reaching for the pickle jar and wondering how much is too much, check out our article all about pickle safety.
Whether pregnancy has turned you into a pickle-eating fiend or you just get a hankering for one every now and then, hopefully, you can now rest assured that pickle cravings are a totally normal and healthy part of pregnancy.
Having other pregnancy cravings? Here are a few more articles that you might be interested in: