RESEARCH REVIEW – ARE DRINKS WITH SUGAR OR SWEETENER SAFER DURING PREGNANCY?
In the fight against obesity, the last few decades have seen many replace sugary drinks with diet drinks and their spoonful of sugar in tea and coffee with artificial sweeteners. Whilst there has also been much criticism levied against the use of artificial sweeteners, ranging from increasing sugar cravings to causing cancer, all the research has focused on adults.New research from Canada has highlighted the possibility that a pregnant woman opting for diet drinks over sugary drinks may in fact be making the less healthy choice, and unwittingly and ironically, setting her child up for weight related problems in the future.
The study of 3000 women and babies found that whilst there was no significant difference in birth weight, the babies of the women who had been consuming diet drinks had a higher BMI and were two times as likely to be overweight at 12 months.
Of the women that drank diet drinks, which included soft drinks and tea or coffee with artificial sweetener, 5% reported drinking artificially sweetened beverages daily and 30% reported drinking them sometimes. Surprisingly, the increased weight effect was not noted in the babies of the women who said they drank real sugar-sweetened drinks every day!
Although the researchers could not account for every lifestyle choice, these results remained significant even when the researchers adjusted for the mother's weight, diet, calorie intake, baby's sex and breastfeeding.
The underlying mechanisms at play are thought to be perhaps, a change in how the body uses sugar as an energy source, a disruption of gut microbiome, or a dysregulation of satiety leading to eating more calories. All effects we do not want in the pursuit of long term good health for our kids.
It is paradoxical that an artificially-sweetened drink could increase obesity and metabolic risks more than the sugar version. But, with 1 in 4 Australian children overweight or obese, it is definitely a subject worthy of more investigation. After all, we want to give our kids the best start in life.
Take home message: A drink with neither sugar nor sugar substitute is best for both you and your growing baby, so look for those options that might tickle your taste buds. However, if you get a craving for something sweet opt for a little bit of the real stuff over a false sense of security that the substitute is healthier.
Source: The Medical Republic, 18 May 2016, p8.