Sugar is found in virtually all processed foods – even those marketed as healthy. It’s a major ingredient in sweets of course, but it is also added to several different kinds of foods most wouldn’t think about. Some of these include salad dressing, lunch meat, milk substitutes such as almond milk, dried fruit, and even “natural” peanut butter. Even several gummy vitamins contain added sugars.
In recent years, sugar has been in the spotlight more often for all the wrong reasons. We increasingly hear about how unhealthy it is and how important it is to limit our consumption of sugar-laden processed foods. This is especially true of pregnant women. Research shows consumption of the sweetener during pregnancy has a direct negative impact on children’s brain development and function in early childhood.
The Dangers of Sugar to Developing Brains
A three-year study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) tracked more than 1,200 mother-child pairs to examine how sugar intake during pregnancy affects brain development in children. The study found that there is a direct connection between women who consume a higher-sugar diet while pregnant and their children having poor cognitive skills. Those children appear to have difficulty with problem-solving and memory, in particular. This study also looked at data for consumption in young children. The study found identical results: Consuming more sugar has a negative impact on their cognitive abilities.
Interestingly, the study found one of the most significant sources of sugar in both the pregnant women’s and the children’s diets were beverages with the added sweetener. These included fruit juice and diet soda. In stark contrast, the children in the study and those whose moms consumed a diet rich in whole, unprocessed fruits while pregnant, had considerably stronger verbal and motor skills.
In addition to the negative impact on children’s brain development and function, added sugars can affect sperm motility, or quality. Researchers at Sweden’s Linköping University conducted a study in which young, healthy men consumed a diet heavy in foods with added sugar. After just one week of the controlled diet, the evidence was overwhelming: The men all saw decreased sperm motility. Discovered once again, the most significant source of their added sugar consumption came from sweetened beverages such as soda and energy drinks.
“Good” vs. “Bad”
“Good” sugar is the type found naturally-occurring in unprocessed foods. Foods such as fruits, some vegetables including squash and onions, nuts, dairy products, and whole grains. On the other end of the spectrum, “bad” sugars are those added to foods to sweeten them or to act as a preservative. Here’s a great example for comparison: One medium-sized banana has about 15 grams of sugar. However, the sugar is naturally-occurring fructose, the “good” sugar. That banana also has potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. All of these vitamins have a number of health benefits. An Original Glazed Donut from Dunkin’ Donuts contains 12 grams of sugar, but all 12 grams are added sugars. Really, the donut has no real nutritional value.
Even if you’re following a very restrictive diet, you’re likely consuming some good sugars. However, it’s added sugars you should be concerned about, especially during pregnancy. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, and men have no more than 36 grams. It may seem simple enough to just avoid unhealthy foods altogether. This is indeed a great idea, but it’s not so straightforward when you start reading food labels. Consider the fact that a single cup of yogurt or protein bar can contain more than an entire day’s recommendation. Reading labels and tracking your consumption is an easy way to follow how many grams of sugar you are really consuming.
Diet plays a critical role not just in pregnancy and child development, but in fertility as well. If you’re considering trying to become pregnant in the near future, you can start limiting your consumption of added sugar now to improve your health and future plans. The team at Viera Fertility clinic in Melbourne would love to speak with you further about the steps you can take to optimize your health pre-pregnancy. Contact us today to schedule your fertility consultation. We look forward to meeting you!