Artificial sweeteners: Are they safe to consume while pregnant?

No-calorie sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners, are a great alternative to sugar and other calorie-rich sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. During pregnancy, these substitutes can be a good and safe way to overcome sugar cravings and steer clear from gestational diabetes. However, you should use them in moderation since there are not enough studies to prove that no adverse effects will result from their consumption throughout pregnancy. Most are safe and okay to use, but try not to consume them on a daily basis. Below we’ll provide the most common sugar substitutes and their safety status:

• Stevia: The newest sugar substitute in the market. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration of the US) deemed it safe to consume in its processed form but not approved when used in its raw state (whole leaf or pulverized). In studies with animals, Stevia did not provoke toxicity in rat embryos nor did it affect outcomes for pregnant rats, but data on the effects of Stevia in human pregnancies is yet to be determined. We recommend to talk with your doctor about his stance on the use of Stevia during pregnancy as many still do not recommend its consumption.

• Sucralose (Brand name: Splenda): This sugar substitute is approved by the FDA for consumption during pregnancy. It’s a great alternative to sugar. It can be used to sweeten beverages and even for cooking and baking. Just be sure to moderate your consumption of foods sweetened with sucralose as they may not be the healthiest choices. Instead try to eat lots of sweet fruits and fresh veggies.

• Aspartame (Brand names: Equal, NutraSweet): This artificial sweetener is quite controversial. Lots of experts say it is harmless, others say it is unsafe to consume even if you are not pregnant. Nonetheless, aspartame is approved by the FDA for pregnant women, but its consumption during the period of gestation should be limited to one to two teaspoons a day maximum. A can of diet soda is okay once in a while, but large amounts or daily use is not recommended. Also remember to avoid aspartame completely if you have PKU (Phenylketonuria, a rare medical condition).

• Acesulfame-K (Brand name: Sunnette): This artificial sweetener is commonly found in gelatin, gum, soft drinks and even baked goods. It is approved by the FDA for consumption during pregnancy but remember that moderation is key. It is not common to find in packets to sweeten beverages so it’s always best to read the ingredients of processed goods and try to stick to natural foods as much as you can.

• Saccharin (Brand name: Sweet’N Low): The FDA approves this sweetener, but obstetricians and gynecologists don’t recommend it because studies have found problems with cancer in lab rats. Other research have found that saccharin can permeate the placenta ad reach the baby who can’t digest it as quickly as the mother. So, if saccharin is your only option for sweetening a cup of coffee or tea, its best to avoid it completely.

Remember to talk with your doctor about artificial sweeteners before consuming them. Don’t forget that moderation is key when it comes to these products, not only to be safe, but because high consumption of sweets means that other more nutritious food options are left aside.

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