The smell of fish, the texture of leafy greens and all the chewing that meat requires are probably things you didn’t give a second thought to before pregnancy. But now that you’ve got a bun in your oven, they’re just a few of the many potentially offensive food features that can drive you nutty during the first trimester and beyond.
What triggers you to turn up your nose will vary, but rest assured that many a beautiful baby has grown from a mama who survived nonstop nausea on white bread and saltines.
Still, crackers don’t make for an ideal diet—for anyone. So we asked three dietitians for their best advice on how pregnant women can manage the most common food aversions while feeling confident they’re getting the nutrients they need to grow a healthy bundle. The best part: It takes only a crumb of creativity.
Common offender: Fish and other seafood
The science of pregnancy leaves many questions unanswered, but it’s safe to assume your fresh take on food has to do with the flood of hormones your body is handling.
California-based dietitian Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says it may also be your body’s way of keeping you safe. “Food aversions may be nature’s way of having us avoid potential toxins or chemicals such as mercury in fish,” she says.
But fish offers uber-important essential fatty acids (such as DHA) that are critical for brain development as well as protein, zinc and iodine. So if the smell makes you run for the restroom, try baking it with fragrant herbs and spices. Less-fishy options with low mercury content include tilapia, canned light tuna and catfish.
You might also consider this your excuse to skip the homemade dinner rush—to save your nose from the lingering odor— and eat out instead. “I recommend ordering these foods in restaurants versus cooking at home,” says Angelone. If you decide to dine in the comfort of your own abode, “choosing very fresh seafood is important,” she notes, adding that doing so will help minimize the smell.
If you swear off fish for your pregnancy’s duration, Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, a certified health and fitness specialist and author of Body Kindness, suggests swapping in bean-and-cheese nachos for protein and zinc, and munching on cranberries (dried and sauce) for iodine. For omega-3 fatty acids, look to ground flaxseeds and walnuts.
Common offender: Meat
Is meat’s texture turning you off? If so, varying the cooking method could help, says Angelone. You may do better with meat that’s grilled or baked, possibly even cooked until tender in a slow cooker.
If it’s the aroma that’s repulsive, try handing off the tongs to someone else and putting your feet up while any meat is being prepared. Incorporating meat into mixed dishes,
such as potpies or stir-fries, can also help mask the flavor and texture, says Scritchfield, who recommends adding extra layers of flavor in the form of a ginger-soy or barbecue sauce.
Whether you’re cutting back or cutting it out entirely, nutrients you’ll want to find from other sources include protein, zinc, iron, B vitamins and magnesium. For protein, you have plenty of options. Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN, a certified personal trainer and wellness coach based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, recommends beans or soy products (especially tofu or edamame). Quinoa packs a hefty protein punch as well. Another
option: Research a high-quality protein powder that can be added to smoothies, which your stomach will hardly notice.
For more fiber than meat as well as some protein, iron, zinc and magnesium, Scritchfield recommends making burgers from beans or lentils. A great veggie chili would also do your body (and likely your stomach) good.
Common offender: Eggs, milk, yogurt
The calcium, protein and riboflavin found in eggs, milk and yogurt are essential for baby’s development—but your body might be boycotting. Fortunately, these foods can be eaten in various forms, says Angelone. For example, eggs, which also contain invaluable choline, can be hard boiled or made into an egg salad and eaten cold. They can be scrambled or served up in a frittata. With a bit of trial and error, you can discover whether one form is more palatable than others.
For dairy, you may find that kefir, a fermented drink, gives you less trouble with your gag reflex. “Low-sugar yogurt varieties are often better tolerated because excess sweet can be a problem for some,” says Angelone.
To trick your body into laying down its defenses, try making a fruit-based smoothie with yogurt and milk. “Add seeds and greens for more calcium and choline,” suggests Scritchfield.
If milk is a continual issue, skip it entirely, advises Mashru—and depend on cheese and yogurt options instead. These are more innocuous for women with a milk aversion. If you end up going dairy-free, “substitute calcium-fortified juices, soy, sesame seeds, broccoli and cooked dried beans,” suggests Mashru, “to give you a healthy calcium bonus.”