Craving Spicy Food During Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know

Craving Spicy Food During Pregnancy

Pregnancy comes with many physiological and hormonal changes. These changes may contribute to common pregnancy symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and food aversions. Changes in tastes and a heightened sense of smell are also common as these changes happen within the body to nurture a growing baby. One of the most notable ways this manifests is through food cravings. Those intense, sudden desires for specific foods can seem to come out of nowhere. 

Cravings are sometimes the body’s way of signaling a health issue or a nutritional need. Cravings can also be totally random with no direct cause. Pica, which is a craving for non-food substances like dirt, also emerges in some pregnant women. This should be discussed with your healthcare provider. In general, food cravings are a common and normal pregnancy symptom. Spicy foods are among the most commonly craved foods

In this post, I explore what craving spicy food during pregnancy may symbolize for both mother and baby.

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6 Benefits of Spicy Foods During Pregnancy

What Does Craving Spicy Food During Pregnancy Mean?

There is no definitive evidence-based explanation for why certain foods become craved during pregnancy. Hormonal fluctuations are thought to play some role. This is because they may impact the senses of taste and smell in ways that trigger new cravings or aversions. While it may give some clues, it is not agreed that craving a particular type of food definitively means the body lacks some nutrients. Cravings can be totally random!

With spicy foods, the link may simply be that due to a heightened sense of smell and taste, some people crave spicy and flavorful foods to match. Others credit Indian, Asian, Mexican, or African roots for spice food cravings due to cultural influences. 

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Regardless of the root cause, craving spicy foods does not indicate any particular health issue or deficiency for mom or baby. As discussed in the post on “Does Spicy Food Cause Miscarriage,” research shows that enjoying the occasional spicy bite poses no dangers in pregnancy when eaten as part of a nutritionally balanced diet. Many people believe that when they eat spicy food, it is a way to induce labor, but research doesn’t back it up. In one study, researchers found that about 22% of approximately 100 women tried to induce labor by eating spicy foods.

(If you’ve reached the 40-week mark and you’re itching to try “natural remedies” to meet the newest member of your family, check out this list of the best foods to induce labor.)

For some individuals, eating spicy foods leads to unpleasant side effects like heartburn or reflux. This doesn’t make spicy foods “unsafe,” but if these symptoms arise for you, it may be best to reduce or avoid spicy foods to curb this unpleasant pregnancy symptom.

6 Benefits of Spicy Foods During Pregnancy

Potential Benefits of Eating Spicy Food During Pregnancy

Potential Heart Health Boost

Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their kick, has been linked to lowering blood pressure in some studies with non-pregnant adults. Regularly including moderate amounts as part of meals may have health benefits. The same may apply in pregnancy by supporting heart health and potentially reducing the risk of preeclampsia. Although the link is not definitively established, many factors play a role. Always discuss medical conditions with an OB-GYN.

Speaking of heart health, check out my post on heart–healthy foods to enjoy during pregnancy.

High In Antioxidants

Many spices used in spicy foods, such as turmeric, ginger, and chili peppers, are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect the body from oxidative stress and may lower the risk of chronic diseases.

Maintaining a diet high in antioxidants protects maternal and fetal health for pregnant individuals. Oxidative stress and free radical damage have been linked to pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and preterm birth.

Theorized To Possibly “Open Up” The Baby’s Taste Buds

Spices seep into the amniotic fluid, exposing the growing fetus to new experiences through smell and taste. One study found that fetal taste receptors develop at 30 weeks gestation. The fetus swallows a small amount of amniotic fluid every day. The flavor of every food a pregnant woman eats seeps into the amniotic fluid, introducing the fetus to different tastes. 

When a pregnant woman consumes spicy food, the baby can be exposed to different flavors early on and potentially be more accepting of these flavors when transitioning to solid foods. Besides cultural dishes, even preferring hot sauce later in life could be traced back to the flavors enjoyed in utero.

For more flavorful foods to incorporate into your diet during pregnancy, check out my cookbook and the meal plans inside The Prenatal Nutrition Library App!

Help! I'm craving spicy foods. Is it safe?

May Support Immune Health

Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties and may modestly support immune health. Supporting immune function is extra important during pregnancy because this is a time when the immune system is slightly suppressed. This leads pregnant women to be a bit more susceptible to illness. Good nutrition is one way to support immune function. 

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Natural Digestion Aid

The capsaicin in chili stimulates various enzymes and gastric juices that may aid digestion. It may even help with constipation relief. Again, moderation is important to avoid swinging in the other direction and contributing to digestive symptoms or triggering heartburn.

Relieves Stress and Promotes Wellbeing

Pleasure hormones like serotonin and dopamine rise with spicy food enjoyment. Satisfying intense cravings lifts mood and provides relaxation amid pregnancy’s shifts. Mental wellness positively impacts mom and baby’s health—reduced stress levels aid relaxation for comfort and growth. Embracing cravings according to the body’s signals feels empowering, too, versus unnecessary guilt or anxiety.

Craving Spicy Food During Pregnancy key facts

It is safe to enjoy spicy foods if you crave them during pregnancy. 

Enjoying spicy flavors as part of one’s cultural traditions or individual tastes poses no harm during pregnancy. Most food cravings during pregnancy are normal. Pregnant women should feel empowered to follow hunger cues to make choices nurturing both physical needs and mental well-being. Of course, if potential side effects of eating spicy food like acid reflux emerge, altering the amounts in your favorite recipes or omitting them for a period of time can help curb this symptom for moms. Overall, spicy food cravings are common and safe to enjoy in moderation!

If the burning flavor of spicy food is too good to resist, but you are left experiencing heartburn afterward, avoiding it may be best. Dietary and lifestyle interventions are a good place to start for heartburn relief. Check out this article if you’re wondering if apple cider vinegar is a pregnancy-safe remedy for heartburn. We also have a free heartburn guide when you download The Prenatal Nutrition Library App

For access to information on thousands of preconception and pregnancy topics and foods and evidence-based answers to your questions about nutrition during pregnancy, sign up for The Prenatal Nutrition Library. You can download the app for FREE in any app store to take a peek inside and grab your FREE 1-week meal plan here!

Also, head to the blog for more info on foods, beverages, and nutrition during every stage of your pregnancy journey. See you there!

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