From pickles and ice cream – to pizza… Cravings have created pregnancy “legends” throughout the years. So what’s behind these cravings? And do all pregnant women have cravings?

Salty snacks, sweets, spicy foods, dairy products…or maybe even Doctor Pepper! Cravings like these are common. In fact, fifty to eighty percent of all pregnant women will experience some sort of craving. For Jen Stephen…it was potatoes of any kind. Jen says her craving for the potato bordered on obsession.

“When I was pregnant with my first, I couldn’t eat anything because I was throwing up and I really wanted a potato. So I made my husband drive me around until I could find a potato – a baked potato is what I wanted. We went to like three different restaurants before I found one that I would eat.”

So what was behind her craving for potatoes? Cara Munson, a registered dietician with the Utah Department of Health, says that there are a lot of theories out there. Some say that cravings during pregnancy are related to higher levels of hormones or stronger emotions surrounding food. Other researchers think it might be related to a heightened sense of taste and smell.

“Some people think it’s related to a nutrient deficiency, but there isn’t really a lot of proof to back that up,” says Munson. “There also is an interesting theory out there that says because a woman’s blood volume increases during pregnancy the amount of sodium is lower in the body and that’s why they crave salt.”

While food cravings like ice cream and pickles are common for pregnant women… Non-food cravings – known as pica – are not. Munson warns that eating things like clay or laundry starch can harm mother and the baby.

Another common danger? Eating more than is healthy for you and your baby.

Jen gained about 40 pounds during both pregnancies. So far, she has been able to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight. Munson says that for many women, pregnancy is often the beginning of a life-long struggle to maintain a healthy weight.

“Pregnant women need about an extra 300 calories a day. So if you’re taking in more than that, you might be getting yourself into trouble.”

Regardless of whether or not you have cravings…pregnant women should remember that they are eating for two. Munson says that means striving for a balanced diet – not doubling the amount of food you eat.

She also says that if you are having cravings, it is ok to indulge in ‘small’ portions. Or, you might want to consider healthier options, like chewing sugarless gum or frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.