When I was pregnant, I wasn't allowed many vices. Of course I wasn't drinking alcohol, and I don't drink coffee anyway, and rarely have caffeine except through my made-up fifth food group, chocolate. Because I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, chocolate and any other sugary indulgences were out (as was white flour, which nixed most restaurant pastas, breads and pizzas). So, my special treat—one I don't think I could have given up—was caffeine-free Diet Coke. That was and still is my drug of choice.
My doctor assured me aspartame found in Diet Coke was fine in moderation for pregnant women (limiting it in the same way you would coffee). But over the years there has been research—mostly in rats—that has linked diet sodas to everything from allergic reactions to cancer and even premature births. Not exactly soothing to hear!
So, I was pleased to read a study by the European Food Safety Authority (the equivalent of our FDA) has reiterated what we in the US have been told all along—that aspartame in Diet Coke is safe for consumption during pregnancy. [Note: one exception is moms-to-be who have a genetic disease called phenylketonuria, or PKU. These moms need to avoid aspartame completely because PKU prevents them from breaking down the phenylalanine.] Oh, and The National Cancer Institute says there's no scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or birth defects. Phew!
According to an article in the Daily Mail, "concerns about artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, have centered on the fact that they contain methanol.Methanol is a nerve toxin, which can be metabolized in the body to form formic acid, which is another nerve toxin, as well as formaldehyde, which is the chemical used to preserve dead bodies." Um, Diet Coke isn't sounding so tasty right about now.
However, the EFSA panel pointed out that methanol is also found in fruits and vegetables that we eat on a daily basis. So as long as you're not chugging the stuff 24/7, the main concern with artificial sweeteners and pregnancy seems to come down to nutrition. If you're drinking a lot of diet sodas (or regular sodas for that matter), you may not be drinking enough water, milk, or juice—all of which have benefits for your developing baby.
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TELL US: Are you still using artificial sweeteners during your pregnancy, or are you cutting it out of your diet just to be safe?
Image of pregnant woman courtesy of Shutterstock.