I love Diet 7-Up. I don't drink it all day long or anything like that, but I almost always have some at night after dinner. And I get a little cranky if we've run out of it. It's not that I'm addicted to it...but I look forward to it, and savor it in much the same way some people savor a glass of red wine at the end of a long day. (Alcohol, by the way, I can do without, since it almost always gives me a headache.)
So I've been preparing myself for the fact that I should probably give up my beloved Diet 7-Up during pregnancy because it's flavored with artificial sweeteners. But I've never really found out if experts have come up with a definitive stance on artificial sweeteners during pregnancy. (My primary care doc said I might as well avoid it to be on the safe side, but my old obgyn said I didn't need to worry about giving it up.)
Lucky for me, I was invited to a press lunch on pregnancy nutrition given the other day by the March of Dimes (an organization dedicated to preventing premature babies, babies with birth defects, and low birth weight). One of the things I love about my job is that I have access to fabulous medical experts, and here, the timing couldn't have been better for me to find out the answer to my sweetener question.
The main speaker was Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, from New York University. She's a superstar nutrition expert — her latest book is, What to Eat. I've interviewed her before, but never on pregnancy nutrition.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to eat during pregnancy," she told the group of editors and writers as we ate our chicken. "Just eat mostly healthy foods, get enough folic acid, and avoid most junk food."
When she was finished with her lecture (it was longer than what I wrote, but that was the basic gist), I raised my hand.
"What's your take on artificial sweeteners?" I asked.
"There's very little evidence to show that it's harmful to a fetus. But I personally don't like the taste of artificial stuff, so I avoid it."
Hmm. Very little evidence it's harmful. Does that mean there IS some evidence it's harmful?
I looked in our press packet and saw there was more info on artificial sweeteners from the book, Pregnancy Myths by Michael D. Benson, M.D. The book states that the sweetener aspartame (Nutrasweet) is "perfectly safe" during pregnancy — that our body processes it in much the same way it processes any protein. The author even goes so far as to write that sugar is worse than aspartame for pregnancy because sugar can lead to obesity.
So I don't have to give up my Diet 7-Up after all? My laid-back obgyn (the one I ditched) was right? Or is there just not enough research on this yet?
A quick online search revealed that the Pregnancy Myths book was published in 1998, and a lot can change in the world of science in nine years. I bet I could talk to three other experts who have three different opinions. But at some point, I've got to tell the health journalist in me to stop questioning. Aspartame or no aspartame, prenatal vitamins or just folic acid, ovulation kit or no ovulation kit? I think I have to accept that a lot of these questions don't have answers. I already know way more about pregnancy than any non-pregnant person needs to know — and all this information and conjecture is driving me a little batty.
I'm just going to try to do the best that I can.
And I guess I should get pregnant first.