Working with pregnant clients can often mean a lot of questions since most moms want not only what is best for them but also their baby. Foods that might not have been an issue before may come under scrutiny for a newly pregnant woman – especially if she is diagnosed with gestational diabetes so questions about their diet may be raised. Regularly scheduled visits can also mean follow-up questions. Since pregnant mothers may be asked to watch their intake of overall sugar and carbohydrates questions regarding the use of low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame may be asked. So, what should a health care practitioner tell pregnant women about the use of aspartame? The Q & A below may help shed some light.
Before any food ingredient is approved (including aspartame), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is entrusted with making sure that the food ingredient is safe for all populations and that includes the most vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and pregnant women. In fact, the FDA and the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association agree that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can safely use aspartame. An American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition task force also has concluded that aspartame is safe for both the mother and developing baby.
Aspartame does not cross the placental barrier. Aspartame breaks down into two amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine,) and a small amount of methanol. Methanol is also found naturally in many foods such as fruits and vegetables and their juices. Aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanolare absorbed into the blood and used in the body in the same ways as when they are derived from common foods. Thus, aspartame never reaches the baby or crosses the placenta.
Studies have shown that low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame do not affect blood glucose. Of course, aspartame is often used in conjunction with other ingredients that may affect blood glucose, so healthcare providers should aid pregnant women in coming up with a health care plan that meets the nutritional needs of mom and baby while also keeping glucose levels in check.
Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare inherited disease that prevents the essential amino acid phenylalanine from being properly metabolized resulting in phenylalanine accumulation. People with PKU require severe restriction of phenylalanine from birth to adolescence (or after) and women with PKU must remain on this diet throughout pregnancy. Since individuals with PKU must consider aspartame as an additional source of phenylalanine, aspartame-containing foods must state “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine” in the U.S. With this in mind, healthcare professionals can assist pregnant women with PKU in determining a diet that is appropriate where all sources of phenylalalnine are considered, including foods and beverages that contain aspartame.
As health care providers are aware, sufficient calories are important during pregnancy, and calories should come from foods that contribute to nutrient needs rather than from foods low in nutrients. The variety of foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame can help satisfy a pregnant woman’s taste for “sweets” without adding extra calories, leaving room for more nutritious foods. It’s important to provide women not only with a nutritious diet, but also one that they can live with throughout the pregnancy as they will be much more likely to adhere to a healthcare professionals’ recommendation and advice. Help your pregnant clients with gestational diabetes find a diet that fits their health needs and their lifestyle and know that aspartame can be a safe option/tool for pregnant women.