Can I take artificial sweeteners when pregnant?
Question: I am trying to maintain a healthy weight when pregnant, can I take sugar substitutes like aspartame and saccharin?
You will find sweeteners in many diet ready meals, snacks, drinks and also in chewable vitamin supplements. Although research indicates that sweeteners are safe, some research on sugar substitutes is inconclusive and many Mindful Mum’s avoid the use of artificial sweeteners completely during pregnancy. In the UK the use of sweeteners is controlled by the Food Standards Agency which allow five licensed artifiical sweeteners:
Aspartame is around 200 times sweeter than sugar and is used in more than 4,000 products, including diet drinks, cereal bars, yogurt and chewing gum. It’s reportedly used in Diet Coke, Wrigley’s chewing gum and Candarel. Some people complain they develop headaches, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhoea and fatigue after eating food containing the chemical. The FSA called for volunteers to test the side-effects of aspartame in 2009. The study is expected to be completed in 2010 and will be published as a report to the FSA.
A spokesman for the agency said: “We know that aspartame can be consumed safely but some people consider that they react badly to it. We’ve commissioned this research because it’s important to increase our knowledge about what is happening. The study will address consumer concerns, including these anecdotal reports.”
The research is inconclusive and although some GPs may consider it harmless, others suggest pregnant women are cautions until more is known about this sweetner. Women with the rare inherited disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) or high levels of phenylalanine in their blood (a condition called hyperphenylalanine are advised never to use aspartame.
Animal studies show an increase in cancer in the offspring of pregnant animals who ingest large quantities of the chemical. Although humans are different from rats and similar risks to human remain unclear many cautious mum’s prefer to minimise or cut out saccharin usage completely during pregnancy. It was banned in Canada in 1997, until recently carried a warning label in the States and there are legal limits on the levels that may be used in soft drinks because it’s been linked with bladder cancer in laboratory experiments. The UK Government’s daily limit is just under half a gramme for an adult weighing 10-12st.
This is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is approved for use in baked goods, gelatin, desserts, chewing gum and soft drinks. It has been permitted for use in Europe since 1983 – has also troubled some scientists, who express concerns that in laboratory tests it produces tumours in animals. Again, the manufacturers’ response is that is has been repeatedly certified safe by regulators (including JECFA) for human consumption.
Cyclamate is 30-50 times sweeter than sugar (depending on concentration; it is not a linear relationship), making it the least potent of the commercially used artificial sweeteners. Cyclamate has been linked with damage to fertility and the Food Standards Agency has advised parents to limit the consumption of drinks containing this. Found commonly in budget squashes and is often labelled as cyclamic acid or E952.
You can sweeten coffee or tea with sucralose, use it in cooking and baking. This newcomer, known as Splenda, is made from sugar through a chemical process that boosts the flavour by a staggering 600 per cent. It’s found in Ocean Spray cranberry drink. However, the product is relatively new with little long term research to confirm that it is safe, so use in moderation.
- Lactose is a milk sugar that is one sixth as sweet as table sugar. It is safe for mums that are not lactose intolerant.
- Honey is a good sugar substitute but it is not low calorie.
- Fruit juice concentrates are a safe alternative to sugar during pregnancy.
References FSA, Eat well, be Well, Terms on Labels,
What are aspartame and saccharin? The Guardian, Aspartame Side Effects, FSA Calls on Volunteers, 2009 The Scotsman, Sweeteners that leave a sour taste,2008 WDDTY, Aspartame: some bitter truths
Flickr: Steve Snodgrass