A craving for sweets is practically inevitable during pregnancy. (Chocolate fudge ripple ice cream, gummy bears, ginger snaps—sugary stuff all seems so much more tempting when you’re eating for two.) A new study from the University of Helsinki, however, suggests expecting mothers might want to think twice before reaching for one particular treat.
Hardcore candy fans, I’m sorry, but that bag of licorice may have to wait. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the Finnish study found that a large consumption of black licorice and its natural sweetener, glycyrrhizin, can have negative long-term effects on the development of the fetus. Researchers found that kids who were exposed to large amounts of licorice in the womb performed worse—by approximately seven IQ points—in cognitive reasoning tests than those who were not. (Thankfully, this finding is limited to black licorice. Red licorice uses different ingredients.)
In the study, the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital districts analyzed 378 youths around 13 years old whose moms had consumed “large amounts” (more than 500 mg per week) or “little to no” (less than 249 mg glycyrrhizin per week) black licorice during pregnancy. A total of 500 mg of glycyrrhizin corresponds on average to 250 g of licorice. Apart from lower IQ, the researchers found that the kids who were exposed to large amounts of licorice in the womb had lower memory capacity, and according the the parents, they also showed signs of ADHD. Plus, the girls were found to have started puberty earlier.
It’s not yet known how much licorice is safe to eat, but researchers suggest that pregnant women, or women looking to get pregnant, should be made aware of the effects large amounts of licorice may have on the fetus. In Finland, where licorice is a common candy obsession, the National Institute for Health and Welfare has already placed it on the “not recommended” category for pregnant women, small amounts—such as in ice cream or a few licorice sweets—are OK.
And while Canadians are not huge on licorice, Health Canada recommends to consult a health care practitioner before consuming it if you are pregnant.
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