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 the second trimester … and possibly even the third trimester).
What food aversions each pregnant person experiences will vary, but rest assured that many a beautiful baby has grown from a parent who survived nonstop nausea by living off white bread and saltines.
Still, crackers don’t make for an ideal pregnancy diet for anyone. So we asked three dietitians for their best advice on managing the most common food aversions in pregnancy 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.
What Causes Food Aversions in Pregnancy?
Between pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness, vomiting, food cravings, sensitivity to strong smells, and food aversions, it’s clear that there is a significant relationship between pregnancy and food items. In fact, one study found that around 80% of women experience nausea during pregnancy, and around 54% experience food aversion(s) of some kind.
But, while the science of pregnancy leaves many questions unanswered, the cause of food aversions doesn’t seem to be one of them. It’s safe to assume your fresh take on food has to do with the flood of hormonal changes your body is handling (especially during the first trimester with those rapidly rising hCG levels).
Another reason you might find yourself suddenly repulsed by the particular foods you loved pre-pregnancy is basic intuition. California-based dietitian Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says your pregnancy food aversion 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,” she says.
There’s no limit to the foods that might be unappealing to each pregnant person, but among the most common pregnancy food aversions include fish, meat, and eggs. Here’s what our expert nutritionists and dieticians have to say about these specific foods, the nutrients they provide, and possible ways to work around your aversions to maintain a healthy diet.
Common Offender: Fish (and Other Seafood)
Fish offers uber-important essential fatty acids (such as DHA) that are critical for brain development, as well as protein, zinc, and iodine, but the strong smell, taste, and texture are often too much for pregnant women.
If your heightened sense of smell has you running for the restroom when cooking fish, try baking it with fragrant herbs and spices. Less-fishy options with low mercury content include tilapia, catfish, and canned light tuna.
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 scent.
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 as a replacement for protein and zinc, and munching on cranberries (dried and sauce) for iodine. As for the 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 from meat that are important for you and your growing baby that 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 is to research a high-quality protein powder that can be added to smoothies, which your stomach will hardly notice (but be sure to double-check safety with your OB-GYN before incorporating them into your diet).
Another replacement Scritchfield recommends is swapping out red meat or turkey burgers for burgers made from beans or lentils. They usually have more fiber than meat, as well as protein, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Similarly, a great veggie chili would also do your body good.
Common Offenders: Eggs, Milk, and Yogurt
The calcium, protein, and riboflavin found in eggs and dairy products like milk and yogurt are essential for baby’s development—but it’s no surprise if your body is boycotting them. 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 also 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 sweetness 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.”
Food aversions during pregnancy are anything but fun, and even the most imaginative workarounds still may not be enough to quell your repulsion from certain foods. If that’s the case, talk to your doctor about your situation so that you can come up with a plan together. And don’t worry, this isn’t permanent. Once the baby arrives, chances are high that you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite meals once again and resume your normal balanced diet.