If you’re pregnant, you’ve likely heard dozens of lighthearted jokes about pregnancy cravings, and for good reason — an estimated 50–90% of U.S. women experience food cravings during pregnancy (1).

One of the most common cravings is pickles, as their salty taste and crunchy texture appeal to a lot of expecting mothers.

This article dives into why you may crave pickles during pregnancy.

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Pietro Karras/Stocksy United

Stories of intense cravings among expecting mothers have been passed down through generations.

You might have heard your mother say, “When I was pregnant with you, I’d think about pickles at 11 p.m. every night, as if it were clockwork!” — and now you may be experiencing the same.

Pregnancy cravings are a universal experience, a small and mundane part of everyday life that also binds people together.

Yet, contrary to what your grandma may have said, cravings for a particular food don’t indicate your baby’s sex. There’s no scientific evidence to support this, so don’t go shopping for clothes just yet.

Rather, research indicates several other potential causes of pregnancy cravings.

Hormones

Rapidly changing hormones during pregnancy may explain cravings, though research is still sparse in this area.

Still, it’s known that a huge surge in estrogen and progesterone occurs in the first trimester, which explains the all-too-common morning sickness and vomiting (2).

During the second trimester, most pregnant people adapt to these elevated hormones as morning sickness fades and cravings peak. One theory states that cravings are a natural response to your body recovering from poor appetite and morning sickness (1).

Pregnancy may also significantly change sensory perceptions, including taste and smell. It’s completely normal if you find your usual comfort foods revolting, or if your once-hated food items become pantry staples.

One study reported that 76% of pregnant women have abnormal smell and taste sensations, and 26% have decreased salt sensitivity (3).

It’s speculated that these sensory changes occur to protect you from potentially toxic foods (1).

Although no evidence suggests that a decreased salt sensitivity affects hormones that increase salt cravings, these cravings may make sense on a behavioral level — as salty foods may be one thing you can easily taste.

Potential nutrient deficiencies

You may have also heard a more “scientific” explanation that pickle cravings mean you’re low in sodium. There’s a myth that sodium needs increase alongside blood volume during pregnancy, and a pickle craving simply means you’re low in this mineral.

However, much like your grandma’s old yarns, there’s no evidence behind this myth.

It’s true that certain nutrient requirements change during pregnancy. For example, iron needs increase to 27 mg per day to support fetal development, compared with 18 mg in adult women. Requirements for zinc, folate, iodine, and protein also increase (4).

This has led some people to hypothesize that food cravings are your body’s response to deficiencies in these key nutrients. However, foods containing these nutrients, such as eggs, meat, and dairy, are reported as common pregnancy aversions (5).

In contrast, low nutrient, high salt, and high fat foods like pickles, ice cream, chocolate, and pizza are reported as the most common cravings (6).

As such, it’s unlikely that pickle cravings are linked to nutrient deficiencies.

Cultural perception of cravings

Another factor in pregnancy cravings may be the way that various cultures approach and perceive food. That’s because culture plays a strong role in our eating habits.

While pickles are a common pregnancy craving in North America, rice is the most frequently reported food craving for pregnant people in Japan (6, 7).

It’s possible that the hearsay around pickle cravings has predisposed you to have the same types of cravings when you’re expecting.

summary

Pickle cravings during pregnancy are poorly understood scientifically, though your culture and changes in how you taste food may play a role. Explanations involving nutrient deficiencies aren’t backed by evidence.

Eating pickles during pregnancy may have a variety of health effects, both positive and negative.

Although it’s perfectly fine to satisfy your craving, you shouldn’t consider pickles a health food.

High sodium content

Pickles are, in large part, appealing due to their salty, briny flavor.

They’re high in sodium, an essential mineral for fluid balance. However, most people in North America already surpass the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) recommendation of 2,000 mg per day — pregnant people included (8, 9).

This makes it very unlikely that you need the sodium from pickles.

In fact, excess sodium may cause water retention and increase your risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy (10).

It’s perfectly fine to satisfy your pickle craving, but do so in moderation and be mindful of eating too much sodium.

Vitamin content

Pickles pack a powerful punch of vitamins, with just one dill pickle boasting 15% of the daily recommendation for vitamin K for pregnant women. This vitamin helps your blood clot and keeps your bones strong (11, 12).

Plus, pickle juice offers a good amount of vitamin C, which aids babies’ tissue growth and immune development (13).

All the same, pickles’ high sodium content means that you shouldn’t overindulge in this snack. That’s because a medium-sized pickle packs 325 mg of sodium, which is 16% of the recommended maximum intake (8, 14).

summary

Pickles provide a fair amount of vitamin K, which is necessary during pregnancy, and their juice boasts vitamin C. However, you should still be sure to limit your intake due to their high salt content.

It’s perfectly safe to eat most types of pickles, in moderation, during pregnancy.

Nonetheless, you should steer clear of homemade pickles, as they have a higher risk of growing harmful bacteria like Listeria, which may cause serious pregnancy complications (15, 16).

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are 10 times likelier to get a Listeria infection than the population at large. Thus, it’s best to diligently avoid all homemade pickles (17).

Instead, opt for store-bought pickles, which are safe to enjoy during pregnancy.

Tips for safely consuming pickles

If you want to enjoy pickles during pregnancy, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for reduced-sodium labels on the packaging to minimize your salt intake.
  • Compare the nutrition facts panel across products, choosing brands with less sodium and sugar. Keep in mind that sweet pickles are made with sugar, while dill pickles aren’t.
  • If you’re tempted to eat a lot at once, try a few mindful eating practices. Stop when you’re satisfied.
  • In addition, shop for store-bought pickles prepared in vinegar, which are usually found on the shelves at room temperature. These have been pasteurized to kill all bacteria.
  • Follow the storage instructions on the label. Depending on the production method, pickles may need to be refrigerated after opening to prevent spoilage. Regardless, always seal your pickle jar securely.
  • Always use a utensil to pluck pickles from the jar — rather than your fingers — to minimize the chance of introducing harmful bacteria.
summary

To minimize your risk of listeriosis, avoid homemade pickles while pregnant. Instead, look for store-bought varieties that are low in sodium and sugar, and be sure to practice proper food hygiene.

If you’re pregnant and craving pickles, you’re far from alone — but the whys and wherefores of such cravings are still a bit of a scientific mystery.

Shifts in taste and smell may be partly to blame for pickle cravings, as well as cultural cues.

Cravings are a normal part of pregnancy. Although your hankering for pickles won’t tell you the sex of your baby and likely doesn’t indicate a nutrient deficiency, this food can still serve as a delicious, crunchy snack.

Just be sure to eat them in moderation to keep your sodium intake low, and pair them with a balanced diet.