Aspartame and Pregnancy: The Low-down on the Low-Calorie Sweetener

You have your morning coffee and bowl of cereal at home, then decaf tea at work — that’s already nine teaspoons of sugar or 144 calories! When you are pregnant, there’s nothing sweet about all those extra, empty calories sugar provides. In fact, you risk acquiring gestational diabetes. Should you consider artificial sweeteners? What’s the real scoop on aspartame and pregnancy? Here’s the lowdown on low-calorie sugar substitutes.

Aspartame is a substitute for sugar and is often preferred by women who are monitoring their caloric intake. Although a few scientists have raised concerns about aspartame safety during pregnancy, most say it’s safe when used moderately. Once consumed, it is broken down into phenyalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol, which are substances found in “natural” food. The same substances can be found in fruits, milk, and vegetables. Many of these “natural” foods actually have higher amounts of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol because aspartame is used in such small quantities. Although some of these substances may enter the placenta, studies show that the amount is insignificant and determined to be safe.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that aspartame use is safe for the general public. Aspartame is safe during pregnancy, according to a report on sweeteners published by the American Dietetic Association in July 1993.

There are only a couple of issues that come to mind. Some are sensitive to aspartame and may develop a headache after drinking a diet soda or other food containing the sweetener. Although there is no known increased risk in pregnancy, you may want to try other sugar substitutes if you continue experiencing headaches.

Those suffering from phenylketonuria disorder (PKU) should not consume aspartame under any circumstance. PKU is a genetic disease in which your body is not capable of metabolizing one of aspartame’s components, phenylalanine. Pregnant women whose partners have PKU should also avoid using aspartame. There is a great chance that the baby has inherited the condition, and PKU could be dangerous to its health.

The main health concern for pregnant women using artificial sweeteners is that they may be passing up on more nutritious food and beverages. If you drink too much diet soda, you may not be drinking enough milk, water, or juice, which are all beneficial to your baby’s development. So, in grabbing that Equal or Nutrasweet for your morning coffee, be sure to drink enough healthy beverages and to keep your diet balanced, too.