New Study Says Using Low-Calorie Sweeteners While Pregnant May Harm Your Baby

Skip the sweetener if you are a mom-to-be.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Photo by: Tetra Images

Tetra Images

If you’ve gotten into the habit of using a low-calorie sweetener instead of a spoonful of sugar, you may want to rethink what you are sprinkling in your drinks and food, especially if you are pregnant. While skipping sugar may save you a few calories, researchers say the effects on your baby are not so sweet.

According to a new study by the University of Calgary, pregnant women who consume low-calorie sweeteners, like aspartame and stevia, gave birth to babies with increased body fat. The study also noted a possible disruption in a baby’s gut microbiota–the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit the intestinal tract–which could lead to numerous health issues and diseases.

“Low-calorie sweeteners are considered safe to consume during pregnancy and lactation, however evidence is emerging from human studies to suggest they may increase body weight and other cardiovascular risk factors,” said Dr. Raylene Reimer, who worked on the study. “Even stevia, which is hailed as a natural alternative to aspartame and other low-calorie artificial sweeteners, showed a similar impact on increasing offspring obesity risk in early life.”

Researchers warn that the effects of a mom-to-be consuming low-calorie sweeteners can affect a baby for years because the presence of some of the sweeteners has been detected in breastmilk.

"A healthy pregnancy, including good nutrition, is important for a healthy baby," Reimer said. "Our research will continue to examine what makes an optimal diet and, more importantly, seek to find ways to correct disruptions to gut microbiota should they occur."

Low-calorie sweeteners began their rise in popularity when many were looking for sugar substitutes. Researchers say women and children consume these sweeteners the most and cite studies that say girls who consume the sweeteners could experience early menstruation, which can be a predictor for chronic diseases.

So, what can pregnant women and moms do for themselves and their kids? Experts say the best plan is to stick to drinks and food that don’t contain added sweeteners. However, if you are craving something sweet, go for real sugar in moderation and opt for alternatives like honey for a touch of something sweet.

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