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Artificial Sweeteners During Pregnancy

By Jaime Budzienski

You've always used a packet of your favorite artificial sweetener in your morning tea -- but now that you're pregnant, you aren't so sure if this is the best move. Though there is some controversy over the safety of using artificial sweeteners during pregnancy, most health care professionals believe they're safe when used in moderation, Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph notes on KidsHealth.

Artificial Sweeteners Explained

Many love artificial sweeteners because of their ability to curb cravings for something sweet, notes the American Diabetes Association. Also known as low-calorie sweeteners, sugar substitutes or non-nutritive sweeteners, artificial sweeteners make foods and drinks less sweet without adding sugar. Most artificial sweeteners are at least 100 times more sweet than regular sugar, so only a small amount is needed. With the exception of aspartame, sweeteners cannot be broken down by the body. They pass through our systems without being digested, which is why they provide no extra calories.

Sweeteners Safe For Use

Sucralose, or Splenda; aspartame, marketed under the names Equal and NutraSweet; saccharin, found in Sweet 'n Low; and acesulfame-K, known as Sunnette; are all approved by the FDA and deemed generally safe for pregnant women. However, the American Dietetic Association notes that it's important to use them in moderation, since there are limited human studies. And even though saccharin is FDA-approved, the jury is still out among medical professionals whether it's safe during pregnancy, says Ben-Joseph. Saccharin does cross the placenta and can accumulate in fetal tissue -- but, there's not enough evidence to prove it's harmful to a fetus. Bottom line: Having the occasional diet soda or sugar-free cookie is probably OK, but shouldn't become an everyday habit.

Special Precautions

If you have the rare hereditary disease phenylketonuria, or PKU, you should avoid using aspartame. In this case, your body isn't able to break down the compound phenylalanine, an amino acid found in aspartame. Neotame can be used instead, according to the American Dietetic Association. Although it's related to aspartame, it's chemically different enough that it wouldn't have an adverse affect. However, check with a registered dietitian or health care provider first.

Natural Alternatives

If you'd rather err on the side of caution, you might consider replacing your artificial sweetener with a natural alternative while waiting for baby. Lisa D'Agrosa, a registered dietitian on Eating Well, suggests trying agave nectar, which can give smoothies and iced drinks a hint of sweetness. She also recommends using buckwheat honey, which is full of antioxidants, and can provide flavor to dressings and marinades. Another option is molasses, says D'Agrosa, which is also very high in antioxidants, and can add sweetness to baked beans, barbecue sauce and homemade cookies.

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