Everyone knows that sugar is not good for them but most people do not know the real toll that sugar can take on their health. The health effects of sugar are unfortunately compounded during pregnancy for a number of reasons. Excessive or even moderate sugar intake during pregnancy can have a very direct and negative impact on the health of you and your baby.
Why women eat sugar during pregnancy
The biggest problem with sugar intake during pregnancy is that it is socially acceptable, unlike drugs, alcohol or smoking. Many if not most women will quit drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine as soon as they find out they are pregnant due to social pressures and concern for their baby’s wellbeing. It is not only socially acceptable for pregnant women to eat sugar, but they are often encouraged by family members to eat more sugary treats and give in to their cravings.
Women also believe they are finally entitled to eat whatever they please as a benefit of being pregnant. While they may deny themselves Krispy Kremes and Haagen Daaz normally, during pregnancy anything goes because nobody will say anything and they plan on gaining weight anyway.
In addition to the lack of social restraint, pregnant women also experience powerful cravings for a variety of foods, and sugary treats are often on the list. The reason for these cravings is not a physiological need for sugar however, but a need for regular meals and snacks throughout the day. You have a much greater blood supply and extra hormones in your body during pregnancy and that means that you feel dips in your blood sugar more so than when you are not pregnant.
Skipping meals is a no-no for non-pregnant people because they will reach for the first candy bar or soda they can get their hands on a few hours later. This is even more true during pregnancy. It may feel like an overpowering craving but it is simply your body crying out for fuel. Regular, small meals are the answer, not a piece of chocolate cake.
Why Sugar is Worse During Pregnancy
Eating foods with refined sugar is bad for everyone. Even in healthy people, sugar causes weight gain, tooth decay, gum disease, rapid fluctuations in blood sugar that tax the body, reduced immunity, displaced minerals, elevated risk for cardiovascular disease and premature aging.
The sugar story gets worse for pregnant women. During pregnancy, sugar is rapidly absorbed into your blood and in order to regulate this sugar, your body requires larger amounts of insulin which is released by your pancreas. If you are eating excessive or even moderate amounts of sugar, your pancreas is going to have a difficult time keeping up. If your pancreas falls short of its job, then your blood sugar levels stay elevated. This is a problem even if you not develop full blown gestational diabetes (which is insulin intolerance).
Excessive sugar intake and elevated blood sugar levels will also cause you to gain excessive weight while pregnant. While you should gain a moderate amount of weight during pregnancy, it should be due to the weight of your fetus, increased blood volume and uterine contents, breast size and other pregnancy related weight, not just growing a fatter butt. When you are simply taking in more calories than you need, you are not the only one who gains excessive weight. Your baby may also grow too large.
Macrosomia is a condition where a baby grows excessively large due to a constantly high level of maternal blood sugar, generally due to gestational diabetes. This condition increases the risk of birth complications such as shoulder distocia and cesarean section. In addition, large babies of mothers with elevated blood sugar levels also have a higher risk of childhood obesity.
In addition to packing unnecessary pounds on yourself and complicating your pregnancy and birth with an overly large baby with a propensity for health problems, you will also run the additional risk of pregnancy related dental problems if you engage in excessive sugar consumption. Oral health during pregnancy is extremely important because toxins from periodontal disease have been proven to cross the placental barrier and reach your fetus, potentially causing both premature birth and birth defects. In fact, women with periodontal disease are seven times more likely to have a premature delivery than those with healthy gums.
In addition, women and society in general like to use the term “eating for two” which is actually nonsense. During your first trimester you do not require any extra calories and your body only needs an extra 300 calories during the second and third trimester, which should consist of high quality protein, vitamins and minerals because your body is literally building another human being. If you are not eating the proper nutrients to build a little human being’s bones, blood, fingernails and hair, then the necessary nutrients will be sucked out of your nutritional stores, putting you at risk for lifelong health problems, osteoporosis, postpartum depression and a number of other health conditions that are entirely avoidable by eating well before, during and after pregnancy.
In addition, it makes sense to get the sugar out of your house before your child is born. Children who regularly eat sugar experience raised adrenal levels, hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, low immunity, crankiness, sleep troubles, tooth decay, obesity and weight problems and lifelong health problems and disease. Do you think it is easier to get the sugar out of your home before they are born or when they are 10 and addicted to Fruit Loops or other such nonsense?
“It doesn’t matter what disease we are talking about, whether we are talking about a common cold or about cardiovascular disease, or cancer or osteoporosis, the root is always going to be at the cellular and molecular level, and more often than not insulin is going to have its hand in it, if not totally controlling it.” Healingdaily.com
Forms of Sugar
Sugar is more than that white stuff you put in your coffee. Sugar is everywhere and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and it is imperative that you know the sneaky forms that sugar comes in if you plan on avoiding it. First and foremost, virtually anything in a bag, box or can has added sugar. There are a very few exceptions to that rule, such as a bag of frozen vegetables, but by and large, any pre-packaged, prepared food is going to have added sugar, period.
If you insist on buying packaged foods, read the labels. Anything with a label is bound to have sugar anyway, but read for yourself. Look for any ingredient ending in ‘ose’. Fructose, dextrose and glucose are all sugars. Bread has sugar. Pizza has sugar. Sodas, pastries, cakes, cookies, and other goodies all have sugar. Almost everything has some form of sugar in it.
In addition, other foods such as dairy and starches will convert to sugar in your body more rapidly than high protein foods and vegetables. It is important to become familiar with the glycemix index if you wish to lower your sugar intake.
Ideally you will simply forgo fast food, packaged foods, drinks and baked goods while pregnant for high quality protein and raw produce but it may be very unrealistic for you to change your eating habits cold turkey especially if your family and friends tend to indulge in the foods you are trying to avoid.
White sugar is processed with chemicals and all the good nutrients are stripped from it. It is nothing short of poison and you should not touch it. Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances, substitute chemical sweeteners. They are even worse than sugar. Nutrasweet, Aspartame, Sucralose and Splenda. Poison, poison, poison. They are man made, chemical toxins. Do not dream of touching them while you are pregnant if you value your health and the health of your unborn child. They are linked to a myriad of long term, health conditions. Don’t even think about it. If the package says, “low sugar” or “sugar free”, run don’t walk the other way.
If you would like to still have a little bit of sweetness in your life go ahead, in moderation, by choosing sweeteners made by mother nature. Enjoy these options in their raw, natural forms and keep in mind that they are still high on the glycemic index and can also contribute to tooth decay. Blackstrap molasses is exceptionally healthy and will add delicious maltiness to coffee and baked goods. Raw, organic honey with propolis is also considered an amazing health food and is an excellent sugar replacement. Stevia is another natural sugar alternative but has not been tested on pregnant women, so you may wish to err on the side of caution. Even sugar itself is loaded with nutrients if it is raw, organic and untouched. If is is just a sugar fix you crave, get some high quality organic, fair trade chocolate. It will load you up with antioxidants and potentially keep your stress level down if you are a real sugar addict.
Women quit smoking when they find out they are pregnant. Women stop drinking when they find out they are pregnant and women should also stop eating sugar when they find out they are pregnant if they value their health and the health of their beautiful, unborn child.
More resources about sugar dangers:
Pregnancy: High-Normal Blood Sugar Risky – WebMD.com
Sugar in Urine During Pregnancy – Drspock.com
Dr. Greene recommends blood test for glucose, called HgA1C
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