Food aversion is a strong dislike for a particular food. The sight, smell or taste of the food causes you to feel nauseous or makes you gag. Both children and adults experience food aversion. Hormonal changes cause food aversion in pregnant people. It’s OK to avoid the food you don’t like as long as you can replace the missing nutrients in your diet.
Food aversion is feeling disgusted or repulsed by certain food and you won’t eat it. You can develop a food aversion to any food. The condition could happen suddenly and ranges from foods you previously enjoyed or foods you’ve tasted before but didn’t like.
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Food aversion can affect anyone. It’s most common among people who are pregnant and children.
Food aversion is very common. Studies show that nearly 70% of people who are pregnant experience aversion to at least one food during pregnancy.
It’s normal to not like certain foods. Food aversion causes you to reject a specific food because your brain tells your body that it’s inedible. It also causes your body to react negatively by feeling nauseous or gagging, at the sight, scent or taste of the food.
Symptoms of food aversion vary from person to person and range in severity. Some cases of food aversion are mild where there’s a strong dislike for certain foods, and others show a severe repulsion to certain foods that lead to nausea. Symptoms of food aversion include:
When children try new foods, their bodies could react to them differently than adults, so children with food aversion can have different symptoms, including:
Severe symptoms of food aversion for both children and adults include:
Symptoms of food aversion during pregnancy begin during the first trimester. This occurs because the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone increases among people who are pregnant during this time.
The exact cause of food aversion is unknown. Some studies suggest food aversion is the result of hormonal changes or challenges with sensory processing.
Research suggests that hormonal changes, specifically increases in the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, that happens among people who are pregnant causes food aversions in the same way it causes food cravings.
The HCG hormone is also responsible for morning sickness during pregnancy. Often, people who experience morning sickness associate feeling sick with a specific food they ate if they are unable to keep it down. This can impact a person’s relationship with a specific food.
Your brain is responsible for processing senses including what you see, smell, touch, taste and feel. Sensory processing challenges most often affect children, especially children who are learning to use all of their senses. It also affects people who have an underlying condition that targets the senses like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children usually display food aversion to things that are new, unknown or related to a previous trauma (for example, they ate something that upset their stomach).
Reasons for a child to express food aversion due to sensory processing issues include:
Often, food aversion doesn’t need a medical diagnosis if it’s a mild case where you only experience a strong dislike of a few foods that don’t interfere with your ability to eat a well-balanced diet.
If you’re pregnant, your healthcare provider will diagnose food aversion after ordering a urine or blood test to check for the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone.
Food aversion can be a bit more challenging to diagnose among children and people who aren’t pregnant due to the unknown cause. In this case, your provider will ask for your complete medical history along with a physical exam and/or a blood or urine test to rule out any underlying conditions where food aversion is a symptom.
Your provider’s goal is to rule out any conditions that have similar symptoms that lead to your diagnosis.
In some cases, especially among people who are pregnant, it’s OK to avoid the specific food that causes food aversion as long as you replace the nutrients from that food with something that you can safely eat.
In other cases where the food you do not like is vital for your health, you can work to treat your food aversion by:
In some cases, you can grow out of a mild case of food aversion to a specific food because time could desensitize your dislike for the food.
If your food aversion is severe, especially if it causes nausea or if you or your child doesn’t like several foods that are vital for their health, don’t rely on time to desensitize your food aversion. It’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for severe cases.
Since the cause of food aversion is unknown, there is no sure way to prevent it. It’s especially difficult to prevent food aversion among people who are pregnant because of hormonal changes that cause food aversion.
For children, you can take steps to prevent food aversion by:
Food aversion will make it difficult to eat certain foods because your body will negatively react to the sight, scent or taste of that food. It’s OK to avoid foods you don’t like as long as those foods aren’t vital to your diet or you’re able to replace the food’s nutrients with another food or a supplement. Some food aversions go away with time and severe cases of food aversion need treatment to desensitize your body’s dislike of the food.
You should visit your healthcare provider if your food aversion is making it difficult for you to eat or you’re losing vital nutrients due to your aversion.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Food aversion is very common and can suddenly happen to anyone. You might acquire a distaste for a certain food you previously loved or food you only tried once. It’s OK to avoid the food you don’t like eating as long as you can replace the missing nutrients in your diet. If your food aversion causes a disruption to your mealtime routine or you’re unable to eat a well-balanced diet, talk with your healthcare provider about treatment options.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/08/2022.
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