Consuming Sugar and Sugar Substitutes in Pregnancy Affects a Child’s Brain

Moms-to-be might want to think twice before devouring all that sugar.While eating a pint of ice cream is often written off as a typical pregnancy craving, moms-to-be might want to think twice before devouring all that sugar.

For some women, pregnancy is a time to let their guard down when it comes to healthy eating habits. As making a baby takes extra energy, it’s understandable that pregnant moms might be more hungry than usual. However, there are no additional calorie requirements during the first trimester of pregnancy, and only an additional 450 extra calories are required during the final trimester.

The truth of the matter is that it’s just as important to eat nutrient-dense food during pregnancy as it is at all times in life. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine cautions that pregnant moms and their offspring should limit added sugar in their diets to protect childhood brain development and cognition. The study concluded that children suffered in both memory and learning when their mothers consumed higher quantities of sugar during pregnancy.

Related: Recent Findings Say Sugar Intake May Contribute to Infertility and Pregnancy Problems 

The study examined the sugar consumption of 1,234 mother-child pairs from 1999 to 2002 who were enrolled in a Project Viva, a Harvard-based longitudinal study focused on the health of mothers and their children. The mother’s diets were assessed during pregnancy and the children’s diets in early childhood. Child cognition was evaluated at age 3, and again at age 7.

Researchers found that mothers who consumed more than 50 grams of sugar daily had children with lower cognitive scores than mothers who ate a healthier diet. The findings also revealed that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), such as soda and juice, was linked to poorer verbal and non-verbal skills.

Switching to sugar-free beverages during pregnancy did not improve the problem. In fact, maternal diet soda consumption was linked to poorer verbal abilities in mid-childhood, as well as poorer fine motor, visual, and spatial skills during early childhood.

The study examined the effects of sugar consumption during early childhood as well. The researchers found that children who ate more fruit had higher scores on verbal intelligence, receptive vocabulary, and motor skills. The cognitive benefits did not extend to fruit juice, with the researchers noting that “the benefits are from other aspects of fruits, such as phytochemicals, and not fructose itself.”

Related: Findings from 1960s Study Suggest Sugar Industry Cover Up 

New dietary recommendations in 2016 recommend that Americans limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of their daily calories, or no more than 12 teaspoons a day on a 2,000-calorie diet. The average American today far exceeds this recommendation, consuming 6 cups of sugar per week.

“This study provides evidence that there should be no further delays in implementing the new Nutrition Facts label. The new label will provide information on added sugars so that pregnant women and parents can make informed choices regarding added sugars and more easily limit their intake,” said lead investigator Dr. Juliana F.W. Cohen.


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