Too Much Sugar During Pregnancy Can Hurt Your Child’s Brain Function

A new study has some important information and a warning for new mothers about sugar and brain health. Soon-to-be moms who consume high amounts of sugar and sugar substitutes during pregnancy are linked to poor learning and memory skills in children.

Researchers in this study looked at the impact of sugar intake early in life, especially during pregnancy. The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicinelooked at data from more than 1,000 pairs of mothers and children. Researchers assessed the diets of the women’s subsequent offspring, and their cognition at age three and again at age seven.

Women who had high sugar diets, especially those who drank a lot of soda during pregnancy, were more likely to have children with poorer cognitive skills. Cognitive skills can include everything from how verbal a child may or may not be to their problem-solving skills, to what they can remember. The same was true for young children who consumed greater amounts of sugar early in life.

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Alternately, high fruit consumption was found to have the opposite effect. The natural sugar found in fruits and fruit juices was associated with greater visual motor abilities and verbal intelligence.

It’s recommended that children under the age of two have no added sugar. Children two or older should have no more than 25 grams, or six teaspoons, of added sugar a day. Natural sugar, like that found in fresh fruit, does not count against the daily limit. Researchers also looked at diet soda in this study. It also appeared to be linked to cognition concerns.

pregnant woman eating cake
Credit: iStock / AndreyPopov

Key findings from the study include:

  • Maternal sugar consumption, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), was associated with poorer childhood cognition, including non-verbal abilities to solve novel problems and poorer verbal memory;
  • Maternal SSB consumption was associated with poorer global intelligence associated with both verbal knowledge and non-verbal skills;
  • Maternal diet soda consumption was associated with poorer fine motor, visual spatial, and visual motor abilities in early childhood and poorer verbal abilities in mid-childhood;
  • Childhood SSB consumption was associated with poorer verbal intelligence at mid-childhood;
  • Child consumption of both fructose and fruit in early childhood was associated with higher cognitive scores in several areas and greater receptive vocabulary;
  • Fruit was additionally associated with greater visual motor abilities in early childhood and verbal intelligence in mid-childhood;
  • Fruit juice intake was not associated with improved cognition, which may suggest the benefits are from other aspects of fruits, such as phytochemicals, and not fructose itself.

Speaking to your care provider about your diet in pregnancy is never a bad idea, and moderation seems to be the best plan of action.

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