A new preservative or sugar substitute seems to appear on the market every week, guaranteed to cut calories or fat, improve taste, or make food last longer. The safety of these substances takes on new importance when you're pregnant. Here's the scoop on several of the most common food additives: MSG, Olean, Aspartame, Saccharin, and Splenda.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid. It is used in foods to intensify and enhance flavor, but it does not have any flavor of its own. Some people are highly sensitive to MSG and they may experience headache, dizziness, sleep disturbance, nausea, and vomiting after eating food containing MSG.
There is no evidence that MSG has any toxic effect on adults or unborn babies; therefore, the Food and Drug Administration has classified MSG as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe for consumption). However, MSG is very high in sodium and may contribute to water retention. If you are retaining a lot of water, or are usually sensitive to MSG, you may want to avoid foods that contain it.
Olean, also known as Olestra, is a synthetic mixture of sugar and vegetable oil and is used as a fat substitute in some foods. Olean is passed through the body undigested, so it is not absorbed, does not enter the bloodstream, and will not reach your baby.
However, Olean has been shown to deplete the body of vitamins A, D, E, and K. In addition, when eaten with any food containing carotenoids (such as beta-carotene in carrots or lycopene from tomatoes) these important nutrients are poorly absorbed. Olean may also cause diarrhea, greasy stools, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
While Olean will not harm you or your baby directly, you need extra vitamins and minerals while you are pregnant, which Olean has been shown to deplete. In addition, pregnant women usually experience some digestive problems, and Olean may increase this discomfort. You also need extra calories and fat while pregnant, so reducing both by eating products made with Olean robs you and your baby of necessary nutrients.
Aspartame, Saccharin, and Splenda
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in most diet soft drinks and other sugar-free treats. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, so the quantity necessary to flavor foods is drastically reduced, thereby decreasing the total calories.
Aspartame is composed of two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. The Food and Drug Administration has judged aspartame safe for the general public and it is safe to eat while pregnant. However, moms-to-be who have a genetic disease called phenylketonuria, or PKU, should not consume aspartame. PKU prevents sufferers from breaking down phenylalanine. If these women consume products that contain aspartame, the phenylalanine builds up in their bodies, possibly causing their babies to be born with severe mental disabilities. Fortunately, the FDA requires all products containing aspartame to be labeled as such, making it relatively easy for pregnant women with PKU to avoid consuming the substance.
Saccharin was one of the first artificial sweeteners on the market, but it is not used as frequently today. Saccharin can cross the placental barrier and enter the fetal blood stream. Although data from scientific studies is inconclusive, it is believed that a fetus is much slower to clear the saccharin from its blood and the accumulation may increase the risk for bladder problems or even bladder cancer.
Many doctors advise their patients to avoid saccharin while pregnant. The American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend that women consume saccharin in moderation while pregnant.
Splenda is the brand name for the low-calorie sweetener called sucralose. According to the Food and Drug Administration, sucralose is safe for the general public to consume. However, there have only been a limited number of scientific studies performed on the safety of sucralose and there have been no specific safety studies done on pregnant women and children.
All three artificial sweeteners - aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose - were created to reduce the calorie content of the foods in which they are used, and Olean was created to reduce the fat and calorie content. However, pregnant women need additional calories - up to 300 a day - and up to 30 percent of those should come from fat. Pregnancy is not the time to diet. Therefore, while most of these additives are considered relatively safe, they are not recommended for pregnant women for the simple reason that they are counterproductive to the special nutritional needs of you and your baby.
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