Soft drinks and pregnancy – the implications
Yes, yes we have heard it before and understand that sugar sweetened beverages like soft drinks and cordial aren’t exactly a health food. Well, they are kind of the opposite, with some completely devoid of any useful nutrients.
The ingredients comprising such beverages are often artificial, or at least highly processed. This includes fructose.
When fructose is available in forms without its usual possy – like glucose or fibre – its bodily impacts aren’t great. Hence why eating fruit is fine, slamming the soft drink not so.
We are increasingly aware of the implication of high-added sugar consumption on the liver, gut, heart and brain of adults. But would neonates be exempt from adverse affects when high amounts of fructose are consumed when in utero?
It seems not.
A recently published study3 using pregnant mice models compared a fructose consuming and control group, assessing various biological markers of the offspring.
The results weren’t pretty.
Pups from the intervention group, consuming a liquid of 10% fructose (equivalent to some soft drinks) ended up with:
- Higher peak glucose
- Higher blood (arterial) pressure
- Female offspring weighed more, had more visceral and liver fat, higher insulin resistance scores, higher leptin levels and lower adiponectin levels.
- Leptin – a hormone released by fat tissue to indicate ‘fullness’. However high levels have been shown to reach a tipping point (often due to overeating) where the body stops responding to leptin, and the hunger switch is never turned off (a.k.a Leptin Resistance).1;5
- Adiponectin – a protein that regulates blood glucose and helps break down fatty acids.
Of course this is an animal study, and there is only so much correlation we can draw to a human population. However, overall we should acknowledge that the littlies after birth, especially females, were showing signs of metabolic dysfunction, risking long-term obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Now, we do not want to be sharing this information to point the finger and criticize future mums, who are already under so much pressure to do everything right whilst pregnant.
But one critical factor we should consider avoiding in pregnancy is high amounts of free form fructose. These can be found in cordial based fruit drinks, some fruit only juices and soft drinks such as cola. But even products like reduced fat mayo, barbecue and various store bought Asian style sauces can kick a fructose punch!
Whilst some fruit have high fructose content, it is important to remember that is that it is far easier to knock back 500ml of Coke than three apples in a sitting. And the apple has added fibre to fill you up and slow the release of sugars into the blood stream.
So we want to avoid fructose. Fine. How about the diet or sugar free alternatives versions? Probably not.
Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin are able to cross the placental barrier, and even accumulate in fetal tissue. Furthermore, daily intake of diet soft drinks has been correlated with increased risk of pre-term delivery. It ain’t looking to great for fizzy drinks!1
What is concerning is we may be underestimating the amount of fructose we are consuming, as fructose to glucose ratios have been found to vary from the 50:50 sucrose ratio, in favour of fructose in many sweetened beverages.4
Fortunately, the fructose to glucose ratio in fruits is generally pretty good, and the effect of fructose is lessened in the presence of glucose (and how it should be naturally consumed – which is in small amounts, usually with fibre).
So what is best? It is the bulk produced pre-package foods that may contain higher levels of free fructose, so avoid it by eating real, whole, fresh foods whenever possible.
Maybe make your own fizzy drink! Some sparkling or soda water with berries, herbs or herbal tea infused can be delicious!
We are all in this together
Again, we understand that a future mother has a lot of pressure around doing the right thing when pregnant. What we must remember though, is she needn’t be alone in this process. She needs support from her partner, and also those close to her. Make it a collective effort to avoid having such foods and beverages in the home, where you are all working together to give future bub the optimal opportunity for health.
- Enriori, PJ, Evans, AE, Sinnayah, P, Jobst, EE, Tonelli-Lemos, L, Billes, SK, Glavas, MM, Grayson, BE, Perello, M, Nillni, EA, Grove, KL, & Cowley, MA 2007, ‘Article: Diet-Induced Obesity Causes Severe but Reversible Leptin Resistance in Arcuate Melanocortin Neurons’, Cell Metabolism, vol. 5, pp. 181-194.
- Halldorsson, TI, Strøm, M, Petersen, SB, & Olsen, SF 2010, ‘Intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and risk of preterm delivery: a prospective cohort study in 59,334 Danish pregnant women’, The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 92, no. 3, pp. 626-633.
- Saad, AF, Dickerson, J, Kechichian, TB, Yin, H, Gamble, P, Salazar, A, Patrikeev, I, Motamedi, M, Saade, GR, & Costantine, MM 2016, ‘High-fructose diet in pregnancy leads to fetal programming of hypertension, insulin resistance, and obesity in adult offspring’, American Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynecology, (Epub ahead of print)
- Walker, RW, Dumke, KA, & Goran, MI 2014, ‘Fructose content in popular beverages made with and without high-fructose corn syrup’, Nutrition, vol. 30, no. 7-8, pp. 928-935.
- Wang, J, Obici, S, Morgan, K, Barzilai, N, Feng, Z, & Rossetti, L 2001, ‘Overfeeding rapidly induces leptin and insulin resistance’, Diabetes, vol. 50, no. 12, pp. 2786-2791.