Avoid drink­ing diet so­das dur­ing preg­nancy

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - YOUR DAILY BREAK - An­thony Ko­maroff Ask Dr. K

My bev­er­age of choice is diet soda, but my girl­friend told me I should stop drink­ing it now that I’m pregnant. Is she right?

For some time now, re­search has shown that when pregnant women gain a lot of weight dur­ing preg­nancy, they have heav­ier ba­bies. Heav­ier ba­bies tend to grow into heav­ier chil­dren, who tend to grow into heav­ier adults. And be­ing over­weight or obese in child­hood can ad­versely af­fect a child’s fu­ture health and well-be­ing. So it’s a good idea for pregnant women to try not to gain more than their doc­tors tell them to.

One of the ways we try to limit calo­ries is by reach­ing for ar­ti­fi­cially sweet­ened bev­er­ages; af­ter all, they don’t have calo­ries. But a study re­cently pub­lished in the jour­nal JAMA Pe­di­atrics sug­gests that drink­ing these bev­er­ages dur­ing preg­nancy can back­fire.

For the study, re­searchers stud­ied more than 3,000 pregnant women. They found that those who drank more ar­ti­fi­cially sweet­ened bev­er­ages tended to be­come heav­ier dur­ing the preg­nancy. They also had heav­ier ba­bies. The find­ing that the ba­bies were heav­ier was not en­tirely ex­plained by the mother’s weight and other fac­tors that can af­fect weight gain (like over­all calo­rie in­take or diet qual­ity). It seems like there is some­thing about the sweet­en­ers them­selves that makes for heav­ier ba­bies.

Now, this is just one study. But it was care­fully done. In ad­di­tion, it’s not en­tirely unexpected.

There have been con­cerns for a while that ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers might not be a great idea when it comes to weight con­trol. There is some ev­i­dence that these sweet­en­ers ac­tu­ally cre­ate a crav­ing for sweets. So while the diet soda doesn’t con­tain calo­ries, it may prompt you to munch on cook­ies that do.

But some ex­perts spec­u­late that it’s not that ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers cre­ate a crav­ing for sweets. They ar­gue that peo­ple feel so vir­tu­ous for drink­ing diet drinks that they think they can af­ford to eat more calo­rie-rich foods.

There is even a study, one we dis­cussed not long ago in this col­umn, which found an­other way in which diet so­das may para­dox­i­cally cause you to gain weight. The study found that ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers changed the bac­te­ria that live in the gut. The change led the gut to ab­sorb more of the sugar in food. It’s the calo­ries that get ab­sorbed and en­ter the blood that add weight, not the calo­ries that pass out of your body.

What­ever it is, the bot­tom line is that pregnant women should gen­er­ally avoid diet drinks. As much as they seem like they might help limit weight gain, they don’t. In­stead, drink wa­ter and other unsweet­ened bev­er­ages. If it’s the car­bon­a­tion in diet so­das that you like, drink sparkling wa­ter.

It’s fine to have the oc­ca­sional soda or le­mon­ade — as long as your over­all diet is healthy (lots of fruits and veg­eta­bles, lean pro­tein, whole grains) and you are get­ting reg­u­lar ex­er­cise.

Dr. Ko­maroff is a physi­cian and pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Med­i­cal School.

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