If you’ve ever been pregnant, chances are you’ve had your fair share of cravings. While some are so common as to be a cliche, others may be surprising and make you wonder where they came from. If you find yourself craving bread, what does it mean and how should you handle it?
Pregnancy cravings may be a sign that your body is letting you know that you are lacking specific nutrients. Craving bread specifically may mean that you are low on the amino acid tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels in the brain and improves mood. While high-quality bread can be part of a balanced diet, avoid overly processed grains.
Read on for more information about craving bread while pregnant, what it may mean, and how you should handle it. We’ll also cover dietary recommendations for a healthy pregnancy and offer suggestions for healthier alternatives to bread.
Why are you craving bread while pregnant?
It is completely normal, even expected, to experience cravings for certain foods while pregnant. During pregnancy, your sense of taste is heightened, and those desperate pangs of longing you feel for rye or sourdough bread are fairly common cravings experienced by many women during pregnancy.
The most common pregnancy cravings include:
- Salty foods (especially chips and crackers)
Food cravings are not well understood and there is no singular cause that has been identified as the reason these cravings occur. There are many theories, and some medical studies, by doctors and people without medical training alike, about the potential reasons why some women experience specific food cravings and whether there is any correlation to the health of the mother, the fetus, or the state of the pregnancy. There are also many old wives’ tales that attribute causes to specific cravings, none of which have been proven to be true.
Some doctors and research studies suggest that cravings for specific foods during pregnancy are due to deficiencies or imbalances of specific nutrients in the mother’s body. Based on this theory, cravings for bread may be due to a lack of tryptophan, an amino acid that is critical in the formation of serotonin, which is the “happy” hormone that helps elevate your mood. Your cravings for bread may be your body’s way of telling you that you need cheering you up!
Here are some popular suggestions for what may cause pregnancy cravings:
- An imbalance of nutrients in the body
- Nutritional deficiencies
- High maternal body temperature
- Hormonal changes
- Heightened sense of taste
- Heightened sense of smell
- Sinus congestion (spice cravings)
- Following a restrictive diet
- Insulin spikes in the mother
- Depression (cravings for carbohydrates)
- Gender of the fetus (myth)
When do pregnant women normally crave bread?
All women and all pregnancies are different. You may crave bread for the entirety of your pregnancy, for one isolated day in your third trimester, or your cravings could wax and wane throughout all three trimesters.
Cravings for carbohydrates often occur during the late afternoon, which is also the time when serotonin activity in the brain drops. Commonly, food cravings during pregnancy start near the end of the first semester, are at their strongest during the second trimester of pregnancy and lessen near the end of the last trimester when your due date is approaching.
Is bread good for you during pregnancy?
Bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates and whole grains for both mother and baby.
Carbohydrates are part of a healthy, balanced diet. All kinds of bread can be safely enjoyed, in moderation, during pregnancy. You will find that there are many healthy bread options to choose from in your local supermarket if you read the packaging and nutrition labels when you select your next loaf.
If your bread cravings are constant, and you find yourself eating bread and only bread, that’s a different matter entirely. Many types of bread, white bread especially, are lacking in nutrients and contain preservatives and additives, along with a lot of sodium and carbohydrates. It’s vital to follow a healthy and balanced diet when pregnant, however much your cravings may be encouraging you to beeline to your bread box for your next fix.
Carbohydrates should make up about one-third of your daily food intake when you are pregnant, which means about six to eleven servings per day. One serving size of carbohydrates is smaller than you may think, but serving portions quickly adds up. One-half of an English muffin counts as a single serving of carbohydrates, as does about one-third of a cup of rice.
The guidelines for a healthy daily diet during pregnancy include:
- Eat a wide variety of foods
- Eat 6-11 servings of bread and grains
- 4+ vegetable servings
- 2-4 fruit servings
- 4 servings of dairy products
- 3 servings of protein (meat, fish, eggs, or nuts)
- Sweets and fats only sparingly
The best kind of bread to eat during pregnancy
When shopping for bread it’s important to read the labels on the packaging. Many breads are marketed with terms like “whole wheat” that sound healthy but in reality, may be highly processed with unhealthy additives. Whole-grain breads are always a better choice than white bread and are chock full of folic acid and iron, which are important vitamins for pregnant women.
During pregnancy, you should avoid plain white bread and breads with:
- Added sweeteners or sugar
- Added vegetable oil
- Fewer than 3 grams of fiber per slice
- Fewer than 3 grams of protein per slice
- The words “bleached,” “unbleached,” “enriched,” and “hearty”
- “100% whole wheat” (may be highly processed)
During pregnancy, you should eat the highest quality bread possible, including:
- Gluten-free breads made from almond or coconut flour
- Organic ingredients
- 100% sprouted rye bread
- 100% whole grain bread (note the difference between “whole grain” and “whole wheat”)
- Bread made from sprouted grains
- Flaxseed bread
- Oat bread
- At least 3 grams of fiber per slice
- At least 3 grams of protein per slice
What should you eat instead if you are craving bread?
Women were not made to survive on bread alone. It’s vital to follow a healthy and balanced diet when you’re pregnant and make sure to eat a variety of foods.
Breads are carbohydrates, and carbohydrates should only constitute about a third of your daily food intake, however much your brain is directing you to shuffle your bread box for your next fix.
If your butter-laden slices of toasted rye are leaving you similarly laden with guilt, there are many alternatives that might help you take care of your craving without adding carb guilt to your psyche or calories to your daily intake:
- Cauliflower bread or crust
- Sweet potatoes
- Kale chips
- Multigrain crackers
- Butternut squash
- Slices of roasted eggplant
- Roasted chickpeas
- Toasted portabella mushrooms
- Cucumber slices
What does it mean if you crave bread while pregnant?
No one reason has been identified to explain why women crave bread during pregnancy, and many people who are not pregnant experience cravings for bread.
Because cravings for carbohydrates often occur mid to late afternoon, it has been suggested that these cravings are your body’s way of sending you signals that you are in need of the amino acid tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels in your brain. Carbohydrates make your body release more insulin and insulin helps with amino acid absorption, leaving tryptophan in your blood.
Foods like bread with a high amount of tryptophan and carbohydrates may give you a mood-altering serotonin boost. Serotonin is known as the “happy” hormone and levels of serotonin dip in the afternoon. Your afternoon serving of bread may actually be improving your mood!
Does craving bread while pregnant mean it’s a boy or girl?
For centuries, well-meaning relatives have enjoyed making predictions about the gender of unborn babies. Many of these predictions have been based on these old wives’ tales which link specific food cravings to the gender of the baby.
Based on the theory that suggests that cravings for specific foods may indicate you are deficient in certain nutrients, you could conclude that bread cravings could indicate a deficiency in tryptophan, but this offers no information as to the gender of your baby, whatever your great aunt may tell you.
If you want to learn more, I have a HUGE list of the most common pregnancy cravings just for you!