Is it Safe to Use Artificial Sweeteners When I’m Pregnant?

Image Credit: Flickr user Steve Snodgrass

You’re tired, you’re cranky, and you just want a Diet Coke. Is it OK to still grab one now that you’ve got a little munchkin growing inside you?

The short answer is yes. An occasional diet soda is not going to harm you or your baby. But (and sorry about this!) — it’s also important to keep it occasional, both because of the caffeine involved and the artificial sweeteners that come in sodas and other “diet” foods. When it comes to sweets, natural is healthiest.

The downside of sweeteners

All three of the major artificial sweeteners — aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and saccharin (Sweet’N Low) are considered to be pregnancy-safe, unless you have the rare disease PKU — in which case you should never have aspartame.

But safe doesn’t mean healthy, especially in the case of sugar substitutes. It’s a better bet, in almost all cases, to use natural sweeteners such as pasteurized honey, maple syrup, or even regular sugar than artificial sweeteners. These natural sweeteners have some benefits to them (maple syrup, for example, has antioxidant qualities that can help fight cancer; and studies on honey have shown it may give you a memory boost.) Just keep the sugar in your diet to about 10 percent of your daily calories, or about one sweet a day.

And though the fake stuff has been deemed safe as of now, and the official word from the American Cancer Society is that there is no proven link between artificial sweeteners and cancer, there are doctors who recommend against using these products, some women have reported side effects from artificial sweeteners, and there are no nutritional benefits to sugar substitutes.

The bottom line
If you’ve already been consuming these products, don’t beat yourself up. There’s almost no chance that you’ve harmed your developing baby. But now’s a great time to make the switch to the real stuff, and save the sweets for a treat when you really need it. Also, keep an eye out for products that sneak in sugar substitutes where you wouldn’t expect it (we’ve seen it in places like English muffins and breakfast waffles!).

Don’t sweat any extra calories — you need slightly more calories than ever before to help that little one grow. And when you can, try to curb your sugar cravings with things like fruit that also provide nutrition too.

And finally, a quick note on honey: While honey is considered to be pregnancy-safe, never give it to a child under the age of one. There’s a small risk of botulism, a form of food poisoning, from honey spores. According to Marcie Treadwell, an ob-gyn, “In infants, these spores can survive and cause disease because the acidity of a baby’s digestive tract is not high enough to destroy the spores.”

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Authored by Amy Van Deusen