Sugar-free sweeteners can be quite a controversial topic, especially for expecting mothers considering the safety not only for themselves but for their baby as well.
According to the FDA, sucralose (better known as the brand-name Splenda), is safe to use in foods and drinks, even during pregnancy. The sweetener doesn’t contribute much nutritionally, however, and is best used in moderation.
There’s quite a bit of conflicting information out there about sucralose. In addition to overall safety and safety for women with diabetes, I’ll also break down the research on any possible side effects.
Is Sucralose A Safe Sweetener During Pregnancy?
First approved in the 1990s, sucralose, also commonly referred to by its brand-name Splenda, is a man-made sweetener used in foods ranging from energy bars to coffee creamers.
Sucralose is a non-nutritive sweetener, meaning your body doesn’t get any energy from it. The lack of energy from sucralose is because your body doesn’t make the enzyme needed to break down and digest the sweetener (source: Sucralose.org). For this reason, the sweetener also doesn’t impact blood sugar levels (source: American Pregnancy Association).
Because it doesn’t spike blood sugar or provide any nutrition, sucralose is a widely popular ingredient. But just because it’s popular, does that make it safe during pregnancy?
Overall the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consistently reports that sucralose is safe for everyone, including pregnant women (source: American Pregnancy Association).
While the FDA lists sucralose as safe during pregnancy, many foods containing it are best enjoyed in moderation. Diet sodas, “Zero calorie” sweetened drinks, and “lite” ice cream are all safe to eat and drink in pregnancy, but don’t contribute much nutritionally. To read more on diet soda during pregnancy, check out our guide here.
Note: For women with gestational diabetes, discuss how to handle cravings and sugar substitutes with your medical provider.
When cravings strike, it’s perfectly healthy to eat the food you’re craving and then resume your normal meal pattern without worrying about swapping for a lower-sugar alternative.
Asking about a link between maternal diet and the likelihood of having a child on the autism spectrum is common. Myths also target this sensitive topic, playing into a fear of “man-made” or artificial food ingredients. Currently, there is no known cause of autism spectrum disorder.
Unlike other non-nutritive sweeteners, sucralose doesn’t attract water in the digestive system and won’t lead to diarrhea. While eating a large amount of sucralose won’t cause a stomach upset, many of the foods containing sucralose are best enjoyed in moderation, as they’re usually not healthy, whole foods that would be more beneficial during pregnancy.
Splenda During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?
The original Splenda is simply a name-branded sucralose sweetener, possibly known best as “the yellow package”. Splenda has expanded its product range over the years, and now includes stevia, monk-fruit, and allulose sweeteners as well.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll use Splenda to refer to the original Splenda sucralose sweetener.
Since Splenda is just a branded version of sucralose, the safety information remains the same, with the FDA’s official recommendation that Splenda (sucralose) is safe during pregnancy.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the foods that use Splenda are best eaten in moderation. Sugar-free candies, diet sodas and other low-calorie drinks, low-calorie sweetened coffee creamers, and diet jello and puddings are common Splenda-containing foods. The brand Splenda even has its own line of Splenda-sweetened coffee creamers.
While the foods are often advertised as “healthier options” due to being low in calories, they don’t provide much in the way of energy, protein, or other nutrients. The full-calorie, non-diet version is just as safe and an equally reasonable food choice.
Does Sucralose Cause Side Effects in Pregnancy?
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how sucralose affects your body, much less your body and your developing baby.
One common misconception is that mothers who eat sucralose during pregnancy give birth to children who are more apt to having a sweet tooth. According to researchers, there was no difference in how offspring of rats fed sucralose perceived sweet tastes compared to offspring of rats red regular table sugar (source: Physiology and Behavior).
Another common concern is how sucralose affects your gut, since it can’t be digested. The scientific evidence here is a bit murkier. Rats given sucralose did have different gut bacteria compared to rats given table sugar (source: Food and Chemical Toxicology). Similar changes were also seen in offspring of rats fed sucralose (source: Gut Microbes).
While it seems straightforward that eating sucralose can change the gut bacteria, these studies have all been done in rats and the results may not carry over to humans or the fetus. And because testing anything on pregnant mothers and their babies is risky, there’s relatively little research that’s specific to pregnancy.
After all, sucralose and other man-made sweeteners are relatively new, having only been used in our foods within the past 30 or so years. In order to say for sure we need more research and human trials, especially when it comes to pregnancy.
Is Liquid Sucralose Safe When Pregnant?
Newer on the market is sucralose liquid. Liquid sucralose is essentially the same product as the original powder, just dissolved into water to create a highly concentrated liquid sweetener. It’s therefore safe to have liquid sucralose too, during pregnancy.
Sold in small squeeze bottles, similar to liquid water flavorings, liquid sucralose is easier to mix into drinks or other liquids as it’s already dissolved. While the squeeze bottle is handy, it is slightly more difficult to control portions when compared to measuring out the powder.
Because liquid sucralose is so concentrated it is also easy to overdo it when sweetening. Personally, the first time I tried a sample of liquid sucralose at a convention I ended up with a drink way too sweet for my liking.
Beyond user error and ease of mixing into drinks, there’s not much difference between liquid and powdered forms of sucralose. As far as safety is concerned, the FDA’s listing of sucralose as safe applies to both forms as well.
Can I Have Splenda or Sucralose with Gestational Diabetes?
Despite being a non-nutritive sweetener, sucralose does actually contain a very small amount of carbohydrate in the form of sugar. Less than 1 gram, to be exact. The little amount of carbohydrate is considered to be negligible, but don’t be surprised if you check the nutrition facts label and find trace carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates aren’t outright bad for folks with diabetes, whether Type 1, Type 2, or gestational. Though if you have diabetes, your medical provider may recommend that you eat less carbohydrate. If that is the case, non-nutritive sweeteners like sucralose can come in handy during times when you might ordinarily be eating a lot of sugar.
For example, if you were served cake, ice cream, and a sweet drink at your baby shower – that could add up to a lot of sugar. Replacing some of the sugar with sucralose, say in the form of a sugar-free drink, would help to decrease blood sugar spikes while you enjoy the food at the party.
While it’s thought that some non-nutritive sweeteners still impact insulin secretion, a recent review of scientific research showed that sucralose did not cause the body to produce insulin. This means that eating sucralose also shouldn’t lead to insulin resistance. (source: Food and Chemical Toxicology).
Sucralose is safe for women with diabetes, including gestational diabetes. However, if you have specific questions or concerns contact your medical provider for personalized advice.
Overall, as a non-nutritive sweetener, sucralose can be found in a variety of foods from diet sodas to sugar-free jello. While sucralose is safe during pregnancy, many of the foods sweetened with sucralose don’t contribute much nutritionally, and should be eaten in moderation.
There is little scientific research when it comes to pregnancy-specific side effects and more research is definitely needed. However, it’s generally considered to be safe for pregnant women.