Using Artificial Sweeteners during Pregnancy: Benefits & Side Effects

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe for Pregnant Women?

If you have a sweet tooth, and love to eat sugar and the sweet stuff, you must be considering replacing it with artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes now that you’re pregnant. As eating too much sugar can increase the risk of excess weight gain and tooth decay, many women consider switching to artificial sweeteners. But is it a wise option? Let’s find out!

What Are Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that add sweetness to a food or beverage. They are free of calories (or nearly free of calories), and are synthetically produced.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe to Use During Pregnancy?

When used in moderation, nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe for pregnant women, assuming that they are not leading to excess weight gain. That said, even the safe sweeteners, may not be completely safe for all pregnant women. They may also increase the risk of excess weight gain in babies later on.

What Are the Benefits of Artificial Sweeteners for Pregnant Ladies?

Using safe artificial sweeteners in limited proportions can prove to beneficial for a pregnant woman. Here’s how!

  • Weight gain is common during pregnancy, but it’s normal only if a woman gains a healthy weight. To lower the chances of gaining unhealthy weight, women can add pregnancy-safe artificial sweeteners in limited amounts in the food and beverages they consume.
  • If a woman suffers from gestational diabetes, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners can help her keep her insulin levels and blood sugar in check.
  • Women with a craving for something sweet during pregnancy can eat sweet dishes prepared using artificial sugar without the fear of taking in too much sugar or gaining too much weight.
  • Dental health, a problem for many during pregnancy is under control when pregnant women take artificial sweeteners.

When Do Doctors Recommend Artificial Sweeteners in Pregnancy?

There are a few circumstances under which doctors may recommend artificial sweeteners during pregnancy:

  • The doctor may prescribe artificial sweeteners when a woman may have gained excess weight during pregnancy.
  • At times women suffer from gestational diabetes which if not managed at the onset can pose a risk on the mother as well as the foetus. In this case, a doctor may suggest replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners.
  • At times, some women suffer from blood sugar problems even before their pregnancy. Such women may be suggested to eat less sugar or to take artificial sweeteners so that the blood sugar level does not get aggravated.

What Should Be the Ideal Daily Intake of Artificial Sweeteners?

Since taking too much of anything is bad, the same can be said for artificial sweeteners. Pregnant women should not take more than 2-4 servings of any food or drink which has been made with an artificial sweetener.

Which Sugar Alternatives Are Safe During Pregnancy?

Sugar alternatives are a great way to avoid glucose in the diet. Listed below are six such sugar substitutes which have been deemed to be safe during pregnancy.

1. Rebaudioside A

It is a common non-nutritive sweetener which is usually used in soft drinks and all types of juice. It is made from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant and is non-caloric. It is said to be safe during pregnancy.

2. Acesulfame Potassium

This sweetener is used in cakes, desserts, gelatins, puddings and beverages. It is safe during pregnancy but should be taken in moderation.

3. Aspartame

It is the most common among all artificial sweeteners and can be used in food and drinks. Aspartame is said to be non-toxic to the mother and the baby in the womb. However, it should be taken in moderation and should be avoided by women who have phenylketonuria.

4. Sucralose

It is a common sweetener and as per the FDA, it is safe to be included in a pregnant woman’s diet.

5. Xylitol

It is a sugar alcohol which is extracted out of plants. It is used in chewing gums, toothpaste and lozenges mostly. It is almost half in calories as compared to sugar. It prevents tooth decay and promotes oral health. However, it should be taken in moderation during pregnancy.

6. Polyols

They are naturally occurring compounds that are manufactured commercially. They are said to be safe but should be taken in moderation.

Woman drinking tea with sweetener

Which Sugar Alternatives Are Unsafe While Pregnant?

Listed below are some artificial sweeteners that are unsafe during pregnancy, and hence should be avoided completely.

1. Sorbitol

Unlike many other artificial sweeteners, sorbitol is a nutritive sweetener. However, pregnant women taking sorbitol may suffer from unpleasant episodes of gas, and in case of high dosage, it can cause loose motion and dehydration. It also leads to weight gain during pregnancy since it has more calories and comparatively less sweetness than the other sugar substitutes.

2. Mannitol

Although it is a nutritive sweetener which is good during pregnancy, the body cannot absorb it well making it uneasy on the stomach.

3. Lactose

It is not an unsafe alternative for all pregnant women but women with lactose intolerance should avoid it.

4. Cyclamate

It has been banned since it is said to cause cancer. It is high in toxicity which may cause harm to the foetus and therefore should not be taken during pregnancy.

5. Saccharin

Saccharin is said to reach the baby in the womb through the placenta and may remain in foetal tissues for a long time, which poses a risk on the foetus. It is also said to cause bladder cancer if consumed for a long time. Hence, the use of saccharin is discouraged during pregnancy.

Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners in Pregnancy

Artificial sweeteners that are approved by the FDA are safe during pregnancy. That said, some women may experience certain side effects after consuming them.

  • Sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners consist of chemical compounds instead of natural sugar which can increase hunger. If you have a tendency of gaining weight easily, including artificial sweeteners in your pregnancy diet may increase your hunger, and you may end up eating more than necessary, which might lead to unhealthy weight gain.
  • The side effects of artificial sweeteners can cause health issues like headaches, dizziness, stomach cramps, loose motion, bladder cancer, brain tumour, etc.
  • Some artificial sweeteners like saccharin if taken in excess may cause foetus malformations and birth defects.
  • Artificial sweeteners are mostly non-nutritive which means it gives no nutrition to the mother or the foetus.
  • It may also cause gas problems and bowel problems in some people.

Precautionary Tips

If you wish to substitute sugar with an artificial sweetener, here are some precautions you must exercise while doing so.

  • During pregnancy, one needs to be very cautious with regards to the food they consume as it can affect the health of the foetus. So if you plan to include artificial sweeteners in your diet, you must check with your doctor about the same. If she gives a go-ahead, you can check with her or a nutritionist which one would be safe and the ideal daily intake.
  • Always consume artificial sweeteners in moderation. Too much of it may cause health issues and/or affect the health of the foetus.
  • Pregnant women with a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) should not take aspartame since it stops the breaking up of phenylalanine in their diet.

There has been a conflict of opinions with regards to the safety of using artificial sweeteners during pregnancy. Some consider it to be safe while some do not. However, adding pregnancy-safe sweeteners in one’s diet, and in moderation during pregnancy won’t harm the mom-to-be and the baby. That said, you must check with your gynaecologist or a nutritionist before including artificial sweeteners of any other new foods in your diet.

Also Read: Is It Safe To Eat Excessive Sweets during Pregnancy?

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