The role of sugar during pregnancy
See how sugar affects your and your baby
If you have a sweet tooth, sugary foods can be hard to resist. But with very little nutritional value, they have little to no benefit as part of your pregnancy diet. Naturally sweet alternatives are a much healthier option. Learn how sugar can affect you and your baby during pregnancy, and read ideas for healthy sweet snacks that provide essential nutrients too.
Sugar and your pregnancy diet
Although many of us enjoy a little sweetness in our diet, sugar and sugary foods contain very few useful nutrients for you or your developing baby.
Most sugary foods and drinks are made with sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar. This form of sugar releases energy quickly, causing blood glucose to spike and triggering a rapid release of insulin to absorb it. You’ve probably experienced the boost of a sugar rush, which is generally followed by a dramatic slump in energy. Rather than keeping you going throughout the day, this process can leave you feeling more tired than you were to begin with.
A low-sugar intake helps to keep your blood sugar more stable, along with your resulting energy levels. During pregnancy this is more likely to result in a healthier pregnancy weight gain, reduce your risk of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and may help to reduce the risk of your baby becoming overweight later in life.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy anything sweet. A healthier approach is to limit sugary foods in pregnancy and better still, replace them with naturally sweet nutritious alternatives.
Understanding gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes specific to pregnancy that tends to develop sometime after 20 weeks. It occurs when the body can’t produce enough insulin to regulate the level of glucose in the blood.
The condition has been connected to higher birth weight babies, but can often be successfully managed through a low-sugar diet to minimise any associated pregnancy or birth complications.
If your midwife thinks you are at a higher risk of gestational diabetes, you’ll probably be offered a glucose tolerance test (GTT) at around 28 weeks.
Factors that can increase your risk include:
- Previously giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9.9lbs
- Having gestational diabetes in the past
- Having a grandparent, parent or sibling with diabetes
- Being of south Asian, black Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin
Maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight through a low-sugar diet and regular exercise can help to minimise your likelihood of developing the condition.
Choosing healthier alternatives to sugary foods
While sweet, sugary foods can be tempting, cakes, pastries, biscuits and sugary drinks should ideally be reserved as occasional treats. It’s better for both you and your baby to avoiding eating too much sugar and find healthier alternatives instead.
Fruits such as mango, pineapple and berries are good ways to satisfy a sweet craving while providing a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fresh, frozen and tinned varieties are all ideal, but be sure to choose tinned fruit in natural juice or water without added sugar to spread out your fruit intake during the day for a steadier release of the natural sugars they contain.
Dried fruit is another great option. Try dried apricots and prunes for an extra dose of iron. When buying dried fruit, be careful to choose varieties that don’t contain any added sugar.
Try these lower-sugar food swaps:
- Carrot sticks with hummus, instead of biscuits
- Chop fresh fruit into your cereal or porridge, instead of using sugar
- Homemade popcorn, instead of a shop-bought sweet variety
- Dried fruit or nuts, instead of sweets
- Carbonated water with added fresh juice, instead of cola
- Greek yogurt and berries, instead of ice cream
Delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes from our team of nutritionists
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