As a pregnant mom, you already know it’s important to eat healthily and get enough protein, iron, folic acid, and other key nutrients. You also know to limit caffeine and avoid alcohol and certain foods like deli meats, sushi, and unpasteurized cheeses. But if you have a serious sweet tooth, you might be wondering if you should avoid sugar during pregnancy too.
Although you may have been a healthy eater before you became pregnant, lately, you might be finding yourself indulging in sugary foods you used to eat only in moderation or avoid altogether.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I ate a piece of chocolate every day. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but I was also eating plenty of refined carbs like bagels and a lot of processed foods like chips and desserts which are filled with added sugars.
Simple carbohydrates and added sugars spike your blood sugar, can lead to weight gain, and increase the risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
Between fluctuating pregnancy hormones, morning sickness, and food cravings, rummaging through your pantry for cookies, candy, or something sweet can become a regular habit.
Or, if you find yourself hitting a slump in the afternoon, eating something sweet for a quick boost of energy might do the trick.
Of course, sugar isn’t only found in obvious foods like desserts but can hide in processed foods and seemingly healthy foods like yogurt, granola, sauces, and cereal—to name a few.
Related: How To Choose a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt
REASONS TO AVOID SUGAR DURING PREGNANCY
The key to a healthy pregnancy is to focus on real, whole foods including plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
Although it’s not necessary—or even realistic— to completely eliminate sweets from your diet, it is a good idea to try to avoid sugar during pregnancy. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. PREGNANCY WEIGHT GAIN
For some women, gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy is inevitable no matter how healthy they eat and how much they exercise.
Yet studies show women are already overweight before they become pregnant and gain too much weight during pregnancy.
If you eat a healthy diet and avoid sugar during pregnancy, however, you’re less likely to gain too much weight.
2. GESTATIONAL DIABETES AND TYPE-2 DIABETES
One of the most compelling reasons to avoid sugar during pregnancy is gestational diabetes.
Although researchers don’t know what causes gestational diabetes, a condition that affects between 2 and 10 percent of pregnancies, weight is a risk factor.
If you’re overweight or obese, your risk for developing gestational diabetes is 2 and 4 times higher than women who have a normal weight, according to an August 2007 meta-analysis in the journal Diabetes Care.
Moms with gestational diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure and preeclampsia.
Although gestational diabetes usually resolves itself after pregnancy, approximately 50% of women with the condition will develop type-2 diabetes later on in life, according to the CDC.
Babies born to moms with gestational diabetes also have an increased risk for high blood sugar levels and being overweight, which can also lead to pregnancy complications and preterm birth.
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, experts recommend you follow a healthy diet.
Avoid processed foods and foods with added sugars.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (ideally low-glycemic fruit like berries), lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Instead of refined grains that spike your blood sugar and can lead to weight gain, stick to whole grains.
3. YOUR ENERGY LEVELS
With all the work your body is doing to help your baby grow and develop, on top of all you have to do each day, chances are you’re exhausted or have some level of fatigue.
Yet eating sweets can cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, and cause your energy levels to drop.
Be sure to eat a healthy diet to boost your energy levels. If you’re craving something sweet, try eating fruit first.
Sweets are OK but aim to consume them occasionally instead of several times a day or every day.
4. INCREASED RISK OF CAVITIES
According to the American Dental Association, pregnant women may be more likely to have cavities, especially if they’re eating more carbohydrates than usual.
Increased acid production and sugar cravings also play a role but suffice to say, curbing the sweets is a good idea for your oral health.
5. PREGNANCY COMPLICATIONS & BREASTFEEDING PROBLEMS
Another reason to avoid sugar during pregnancy is that it can lead to weight gain and being overweight increases your risk for certain pregnancy complications, complications during labor and delivery, cesarean delivery, and problems with breastfeeding.
In fact, one study found that women who gained more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, whether they were overweight before pregnancy or not, were more likely to have problems initiating breastfeeding and continuing to breastfeed.
6. LOSING THE BABY WEIGHT
You may have good intentions to eat healthily and exercise, and get back into your pre-pregnancy jeans, but once your baby is home, it becomes much more challenging to plan meals, cook, and carve out time for a workout.
It may be why nearly 60 percent of moms who have 1 and 2-year-olds were still carrying a small amount of baby weight, a December 2013 survey by BabyCenter.com found.
Therefore, trying to curb sugar during pregnancy and avoiding excess weight gain can go a long way in your efforts to lose it after your baby is born.
7. YOUR BABY’S HEALTH
Avoiding sugar during pregnancy has a ton of benefits for your baby as well.
Experts consider overconsumption of sugar during pregnancy such a risk that they have coined it “secondhand sugar.”
In fact, according to an August 2019 review in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, consumption of sugar during pregnancy is linked to an increased risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm birth.
Plus, children who are exposed to added sugars during pregnancy are more likely to have a preference for sweets and have a greater risk for childhood obesity.
Plus, a 2018 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found moms who consumed too much sugar during pregnancy were more likely to have children with poor cognitive skills.
Other studies have also linked sugar consumption during pregnancy to an increased risk of having a child with asthma.
8. PREVENT POOR EATING HABITS AFTER PREGNANCY
Another reason to try to avoid sugar during pregnancy is that it could become a habit after you have your baby, which is tougher to kick when you’re be sleep-deprived and stressed.
Sleep deprivation causes your body to ramp up the production of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” which tells your body to eat and slows down leptin, the hormone that decreases appetite.
Also, blood sugar spikes and crashes prime the brain and make you want more of those sugary foods, Ashley Gearhardt, a psychologist at the University of Michigan stated in this article.
When cortisol, the “stress hormone” rises, you might be more likely to crave sweets.
Related: 12 Ways To Cope With Stress Eating
9. YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AFTER PREGNANCY
Avoiding sugar during pregnancy is also a good idea because research suggests it can affect your mental health after giving birth.
According to a May 2020 study in the Journal of Endocrinology, pregnant rats who were given a high-sugar diet had increased levels of progesterone, a hormone that’s important for a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding, while levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter known as the “happy hormone,” were altered. The study suggests that a high sugar diet during pregnancy could have long-term effects on a mom’s mental health, the care of her baby, and motivation.
10. A HEALTHY FAMILY
Trying to avoid sugar during pregnancy and eating a healthy, whole foods diet is important for you and your baby but creating those healthy habits early on will allow you to teach and model them for your child.
When your kids see you eating healthy and having sweets in moderation, they’ll be motivated to follow suit.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON SUGAR DURING PREGNANCY
While avoiding sugar during pregnancy is one of the best choices you can make for you and your baby, it’s OK to give in to your pregnancy cravings from time to time.
If you worry too much about your diet, label foods “good” and “bad” and become too restrictive, it could lead to feelings of deprivation and eating too much sugar.
Instead, focus on mostly whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and whole grains, and carve out some room for an occasional treat.
You can also cut back the sugar in most recipes or use bananas, applesauce, or dried fruit to add sweetness.