The Lowdown on Artificial Sweeteners During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, moms-to-be should cut back on their artificial sugar consumption and use it in moderation.

The safety of consuming artificial sweeteners is always a hot topic – but it is now more so than ever because well, you’re pregnant. Whether you’re sitting down for a meal or grabbing a quick snack from a vending machine, you must be cautious about your food choices because whatever you eat, the baby does, too.

For instance, let’s say you put a pack of Splenda in your cup of coffee before work and in the bowl of Cheerios you ate for breakfast, and once you got to the office, you drank a cup of decaffeinated tea. That’s already three packs of sugar before you finished sifting through all those emails. Moms-to-be, there is nothing sweet about all those extra, empty calories that sugar provides.

Here’s the scoop on the low-cal, no-cal artificial sweeteners and how they can affect your baby.

Before we guide you through the list of sweeteners, here’s a quick breakdown on what they are:

  • Artificial sweeteners: Ingredients that add sweetness to foods.
  • Sweeteners: Ingredients in soft drinks, desserts, candies and pastries.

There are two categories of sweeteners:

“Nutritive sweeteners contain calories, non-nutritives don’t.”

1. Nutritive

Nutritive sweeteners, otherwise known as table sugar, contain empty calories with little vitamins and minerals. During pregnancy, it’s OK to use these in moderation as long as they aren’t contributing to excess weight gain. This particular sweeter is found in foods containing sucrose, dextrose, honey, corn sugar, fructose, maltose and sugar alcohols. Women with carbohydrate intolerances like gestational diabetes, diabetes mellitus or insulin-resisting conditions should omit the use of nutritive sweeteners.

2. Non-nutritive

Non-nutritive sweeteners don’t contain any calories and have been approved for use in dietetic or reduced calorie foods and beverages.

There are three main types of artificial sweeteners used in the U.S.: aspartame, sucralose and saccharin.

Here’s the lowdown on all three:

1. Sucralose (Splenda)

Sucralose is made from sugar but doesn’t add any extra calories because most of it cannot be digested. The FDA has approved sucralose as a substitute for sugar, and experts at the American Academy of Family Physicians deemed it safe, as long as expecting moms use it in moderation. It has no effect on blood sugar, offers no calories and is also safe for lactation.

Sucralose is commonly found in: baked goods, chewing gum, coffee and tea products, frosting, fats and oils, frozen dairy desserts and mixes, fruit juices, sugar substitutes, sweet sauces and toppings and syrups.

2. Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)

Aspartame is made up of two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. This sweeter has not been linked to birth defects, so it’s safe to consume in small amounts during pregnancy.

For mom’s that have a genetic disease called phenylketonuria (PKU), avoid aspartame completely. This disease hinders the body’s ability to breakdown phenylalanine, which can build up and cause brain damage to the baby.

Aspartame is commonly found in: carbonated beverages and carbonated beverage syrup bases, gelatin, pudding mixes, breakfast cereals, chewing gym and dairy products.

“Studies show saccharin crosses the placenta – avoid this sweetener during pregnancy.”

3. Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)

Although the FDA considers saccharin safe for the general public, studies by the American Pregnancy Association show the sweetener crosses the placenta and may remain in the fetal tissue. Because of this, pregnancy women are advised to stay away from saccharin.

Saccharin is commonly found in: soft drinks, candies, pastries, medicines and toothpaste.

Additional, non-nutritive sweeteners that are considered safe during pregnancy are:

1. Rebaudioside A (Stevia)

Rebaudioside A has received the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) rating by the FDA. This non-nutritive sweetener has been reported 200-400 times sweeter than table sugar and is composed of steviol glycosides, which are natural constitutes from plants.

Rebaudioside is commonly found in: soft drinks and juices.

2. Acesulfame Potassium or Ace-K (Sunnett)

According to the FDA, more than 90 studies found this non-nutritive sweetener to be safe. Ace-K was approved as a general purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer in food under certain conditions of use like when it’s used at high temperatures during baking.

Ace-K is commonly found in: baked goods, frozen desserts, sugar free gelatins, puddings and carbonated beverages.

If you are still unsure about the use of artificial sweeteners during pregnancy, consult your health care provider.