Whenever pregnancy comes up in books, films or TV programs, it nearly always goes hand in hand with the mother-to-be having crazy cravings.
These can cover the full spectrum from bizarre to downright ridiculous – I worked with a pregnant colleague once who would chew on kitchen sponges (those ones with a rough texture on one side for cleaning pots and pans) and I never really understood why.
What are the reasons behind these cravings?
Although no one can really pin point for sure the reasons behind pregnancy cravings, some nutritionists and healthcare practitioners believe that certain cravings are meaningful. They might be linked to something lacking in their nutrition such as a shortage of magnesium
in the diet could trigger a craving for chocolate. Foods that contain magnesium include whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and green vegetables such as spinach. Others might need more essential fatty acids in their diet. For example, when they start taking fish oil or flax oil, their food cravings disappear. A desire for red meat might be a need for protein or those bowls of fresh peaches could be a response to body requiring beta carotene.
It is also thought that aversions to certain foods can be linked with cravings. While some mothers develop this aversion to foods or beverages that are harmful, so others might sadly steer clear of the good stuff.
Studies are unable to satisfactorily explain food cravings
However, there is a new study
that does shed some light on why a healthy diet during pregnancy could be critical to the future health of your children. Leading this research was Beverly Muhlhausler Ph.D from the FOODplus Research Centre at the School of Agriculture Food and Wine at The University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia and published in the March 2013 issue of The FASEB Journal.
This study found that pregnant mothers who consume junk food actually cause changes in the development of the “opioid signalling pathway” in the brains of their unborn children, resulting in the babies being less sensitive to opioids, which are released upon consumption of foods that are high in bad fats and sugar.
Poor food choices during pregnancy could have a 2 fold reaction
(1) fewer nutrients to nourish your unborn child and
(2) setting the stage for your child to have a higher "tolerance" to junk food plus the need to eat more of it to achieve a "feel good" response.
For many decades, mothers-to-be have been encouraged to eat healthily during pregnancy and beyond but the results of this research could underscore even more the lasting effect their diet on the development of their child's lifelong good food preferences as well as the risk or not of metabolic disease.
How the study was conducted
Beverly Muhlausler and colleagues studied the pups of two groups of rats, one of which had been fed normal rat food and the other which had been given a range of human junk foods during pregnancy and lactation. After weaning, the pups were given daily injections of an opioid receptor blocker, which blocks opioid signaling. Blocking opioid signaling lowers the intake of bad fat and sugar by preventing the release of dopamine.
Results showed that the opioid receptor blocker was less effective at reducing fat and sugar intake in the pups of the junk food fed mothers, suggesting that the opioid signaling pathway in these offspring was less sensitive than for pups whose mothers were eating a standard rat feed.
Here is more about what goes on with the unborn baby during pregnancy
You might be interested to watch the video by Annie Murphy Paul “What we learn before we are born” here
. With regard to food, Annie explains that the baby tastes and smells during its time in the womb.
She says: “By seven months of gestation, the fetus' taste buds are fully developed, and its olfactory receptors, which allow it to smell, are functioning. The flavors of the food a pregnant woman eats find their way into the amniotic fluid, which is continuously swallowed by the fetus. Babies seem to remember and prefer those tastes once they're out in the world. In one experiment, a group of pregnant women was asked to drink a lot of carrot juice during their third trimester of pregnancy, while another group of pregnant women drank only water. Six months later, the women's infants were offered cereal mixed with carrot juice, and their facial expressions were observed while they ate it. The offspring of the carrot juice drinking women ate more carrot-flavored cereal , they seemed to enjoy it more
Annie goes on to tell another story "A sort of French version of this experiment was carried out in Dijon, France where researchers found that mothers who consumed food and drink flavored with licorice-flavored anise during pregnancy showed a preference for anise on their first day of life, and again, when they were tested later, on their fourth day of life. Babies whose mothers did not eat anise during pregnancy showed a reaction that translated roughly as 'yuck'."
emphasizes how babies in the womb are effectively being taught by their mothers about what is safe and good to eat while at the same time they are being taught about the particular culture that they'll be joining through one of culture's most powerful expressions - namely food.
Isn't it wonderful that babies are being introduced to the characteristic flavors and spices of their culture's cuisine even before they arrive?
It would seem that it cannot be overemphasized about how important it is to your unborn baby what you eat and drink during your pregnancy for all kinds of reasons.