There are many reasons why pregnant women cut back on sugar. It might be because of gestational diabetes or it could be to avoid gaining too much weight. Perhaps it’s to reduce inflammation in the body or prevent energy crashes.
No matter the reason for avoiding sugar, some things just taste better if they are sweeter. That’s where artificial sweeteners come in handy. One of the best-known is aspartame. But is aspartame safe for pregnancy? Let’s look at what the experts say.
- 1 What is aspartame?
- 2 Does aspartame cause birth defects?
- 3 Can you have artificial sweeteners while pregnant?
- 4 Different kinds of sugar substitutes
- 5 What about using other polyols or sugar alcohols as sweeteners during pregnancy?
- 6 Conclusion
What is aspartame?
Technically, aspartame is a methyl ester of aspartic acid and phenylalanine dipeptide. But you probably know it better as NutraSweet, Canderel, or Equal. It’s been around since the FDA approved it for use in food in 1981. It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar!
Does aspartame cause birth defects?
Aspartame is likely only a problem if you are a pregnant woman with phenylketonuria. If you have this condition, please talk to your doctor about alternative sweeteners.
It’s been tested forward and backward by more than 100 governmental regulatory bodies and clinical trials. It’s been reviewed and re-reviewed for safety in both adults and children. Moreover, studies show that using it instead of sugar can help reduce body weight.
As long as you don’t overdo it, aspartame should be safe to eat. Even doses as high as 200 mg per 2 pounds of body weight didn’t poison people. So yes, you can have drinks with aspartame while pregnant. And it’s OK to drink diet Coke during pregnancy as long as you don’t overdo it with the caffeine. (Docs recommend no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day which is equal to just under 6 cans of Diet Coke).
With regards to safety during pregnancy, there’s only one concern. Aspartame breaks down into methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine as it’s digested and these molecules cross the placenta. If you are a pregnant woman with phenylketonuria you need to avoid aspartame as it’s harmful to you and possibly your baby as well. Ask your doctor if you want to know more about this artificial sweetener’s effects on a fetus (1).
Can you have artificial sweeteners while pregnant?
While we’re talking about whether aspartame is safe for pregnancy, what about other artificial sweeteners? For example, you’ve probably seen or had food or drinks with sucralose, Sweet ‘n Low, and Splenda. Then, there’s xylitol, Stevia, and even more options.
In most cases, artificial sweeteners are safe during pregnancy. It’s still smart to ask your doctor about using them and not overuse them. For instance, sucralose can give you diarrhea if you eat too much of it.
Most sweeteners have an acceptable daily intake guideline to help you decide how much is too much. Let’s discuss various artificial sweeteners now.
Different kinds of sugar substitutes
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener developed in a laboratory and used in soft drinks and processed food and candy. It’s one of the best no-calorie sugar substitutes including saccharin and sucralose.
Meanwhile, there are sugar alcohols which are carbs that come from some fruits and vegetables. No, they aren’t alcoholic. Check out your pack of gum – it might have sorbitol or xylitol in it. If you eat too much sugar alcohol, it acts as a laxative.
Then, there are natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and coconut sugar. However, these add calories to your diet.
Lastly, there is Stevia, the only novel sweetener that the FDA has approved. Not only is it low-calorie, but it may reduce blood pressure (2).
Keep reading to learn more about aspartame and other artificial and natural sweeteners during pregnancy.
EQUAL 0 Calorie Sweetener
You’ve probably seen little blue packets of aspartame under the brand names Equal or NutraSweet. It also appears in soft drinks and chewing gum. It adds zero calories to your diet and it’s much, much sweeter than sugar. Just a little bit goes a long way – one packet of Equal is the same as 2 teaspoons of sugar.
If you have high levels of phenylalanine in your blood, or if you’ve been diagnosed with PKU (phenylketonuria), please avoid aspartame. When it is digested, it breaks down into various components like phenylalanine which builds up and causes brain damage.
Also, if you’re watching carbs, check the label of the product with aspartame. It may have other ingredients that add carbohydrates and calories.
Of course, you have other sweeteners to choose from besides aspartame.
Splenda No Calorie Sweetener
Splenda is acesulfame potassium. Like aspartame, it’s super sweet. It also crosses the placenta and there hasn’t been a lot of research on how it might affect a human fetus. What’s interesting is that animal studies show that fetuses who were exposed to acesulfame potassium in the womb had stronger preferences for sweets after birth (1).
If you’d like to use Splenda to sweeten your drinks, your oatmeal, or your baked goods, it’s probably safe in limited amounts. Still, it’s not a bad idea to discuss your pregnancy diet with your OB/GYN or nutritionist.
As for us, we think Splenda tastes better than aspartame, Stevia, or saccharin.
Sweet ‘N Low Zero Calorie Sweetener
These days, you can find pink packets of Sweet ‘N Low all over the world. But that wasn’t always true. Although saccharin was invented a long time ago, it was banned in over 100 countries in 1981. What it happened is that animal experiments found that saccharin was linked to bladder tumors. However, the poor rats used in the studies were subjected to extreme amounts of saccharin. A human would have to drink eight hundred 12-ounce diet sodas daily to consume the same dose the rats were given (3).
Still, you should know that saccharin crosses the placenta and may accumulate in the fetus. Human studies found that at least there was no link between saccharin and spontaneous abortions.
Like everything else in life, take it in moderation. If you’re going to use Sweet ‘N Low, go easy. Purchasing it in pre-measured packets makes it simple to get the right amount and keeps it fresh for longer.
STEVIA IN THE RAW Zero Calorie Sweetener
Is stevia safe for pregnancy? Although Stevia was approved as a food additive a decade ago, we didn’t find any studies on pregnant women or babies in the womb. On the bright side, animal studies showed that Stevia doesn’t harm animal embryos or pregnant mothers (1).
What’s more, stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener made from plants. This alone makes it more appealing than the laboratory-derived alternatives. A single packet is equal to two teaspoons of sugar. Plus, it has a low glycemic index that’s helpful for people with diabetes.
This particular brand of Stevia In The Raw is blended with dextrose because the stevia has to be diluted to usable proportions. It can be used to sweeten pretty much anything from beverages to cereal to baking. Lastly, not only is it gluten-free, but it’s also certified kosher and vegan.
BulkSupplements.com Sucralose Powder
Is sucralose safe during pregnancy? We only found animal studies and those were done with high doses of sucralose without any adverse effects (1).
This no-calorie sweetener is often found in protein shakes, instant hot chocolate, and similar products. It’s anywhere from 300 to 1000 times sweeter than sucrose.
Sucralose is a favorite sweetener used by people following the keto diet. Instead of being sold in packets like Equal or Splenda, you can purchase it in bulk quantities to use it in baking and more. Since it’s completely carb-free, dentists probably love it, too.
There’s just one caveat – it’s very hard to measure unless you have a milligram scale or a tiny cc scoop. It’s just that sweet. A teaspoon could probably saturate 5 gallons of ice tea, for example.
The brand manufacturers in an FDA-registered facility in Nevada and they follow cGMP standards. Moreover, they use third-party laboratories to verify the purity and quality of the sucralose.
Swerve Ultimate Sugar Replacement Sweetener
Swerve consists of erythritol which is a polyol or sugar alcohol. (Maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol are also sugar alcohols). We didn’t find much information about the effects of using polyols during pregnancy but they are generally recognized as safe (1).
One thing you should know is that Swerve might be zero-calorie but it’s not carb-free. Erythritol adds 4 g per serving, which is 1 teaspoon.
Another detail that will interest the bakers among you is that it comes in either granular or confectioner versions. Granular has the texture of regular white sugar while confectioner is like powdered sugar for frosting and glazes. You can use either one to make a simple syrup for pancakes.
What about using other polyols or sugar alcohols as sweeteners during pregnancy?
Is xylitol safe for pregnancy? After all, you can find it in lots of things like chewing gum and toothpaste. Furthermore, it prevents tooth decay, making it even more attractive.
Then, there’s mannitol, but it’s not as popular because eating too much of it can make your tummy upset.
And lastly, there’s sorbitol with the same side effects as mannitol. Too much of it can lead to diarrhea and an upset stomach.
How much is too much? Here’s where we recommend you speak to your doctor about how much sweetener to use during pregnancy.
Lakanto Classic Monk Fruit Sweetener
First, this isn’t pure monk fruit. It’s been diluted with erythritol, the same stuff that’s in Swerve sweetener. Otherwise, it would be a real pain to try and measure tiny amounts of monk fruit for your coffee. That’s because monk fruit is around 250 times sweeter than sugar and yet adds no calories to your food.
Like stevia which comes from plants, monk fruit comes from a gourd that grows in China. It’s considered a superfood. The Chinese have used it for centuries as a medicinal treatment under the name luo han guo.
In the USA, the FDA has given it the go-ahead for use in food and it’s a common sweetener in sports protein drinks. Nevertheless, don’t overdo it with this particular monk fruit sweetener because of the erythritol. Too much sugar alcohol and you end up with cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and possibly hives.
If you’d rather skip the polyol and use pure monk fruit, Splenda makes a liquid sweetener out of it.
365 by Whole Foods Market, Coconut Organic Sugar
If you prefer to go all-natural, you can stick to pure cane sugar or try organic coconut sugar (also known as coconut palm sugar). It looks like brown sugar and tastes a lot like it, too.
It’s safe during pregnancy as long as you don’t need to limit your carbs or calories. That’s because 2 teaspoons have 30 calories with 8 g of carbohydrates. All of those carbs come from sugar, not fiber.
This particular brand of coconut palm sugar is made with fair trade certified coconuts from Indonesia.
In summary, aspartame is considered to be safe during pregnancy. It’s been extensively studied and tested. Furthermore, there are several other artificial and naturally-derived sweeteners available if you’d like to experiment with alternatives.
Just like how a lot of sugar isn’t good for you, too much aspartame or other zero-calorie sweeteners can be harmful. It’s smart to talk to your doctor about finding a balance.
You might also take advantage of this time when you’re motivated to have a healthy diet and start trying unsweetened foods and drinks. One example is unsweetened almond milk with a hint of vanilla. It’s low-calorie and tasty with no aftertaste.
We hope our article helped you find what you need today. If you’ve had a good experience with any of these sweeteners, we’d love to hear about it. Your comment may be what someone else needs to make a tough decision.
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4229159/ Pope E, Koren G, Bozzo P. Sugar substitutes during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2014 Nov; 60(11):1003-5. PMID: 25392440; PMCID: PMC4229159.
2. https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/eating-well/week-31/sweetener.aspx Are Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes Safe During Pregnancy? by Amanda Krupa, Medically Reviewed by Alexandra Paetow, M.S., R.D.N. on April 26, 2022
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185898/ Touyz LZ. Saccharin deemed “not hazardous” in United States and abroad. Curr Oncol. 2011 Oct;18(5):213-4. doi: 10.3747/co.v18i5.836. PMID: 21980248; PMCID: PMC3185898.