"Diet" drinks are often promoted as a healthy alternative to sugary sodas and juices. With little to no calories, many consumers (myself included) turn to these beverages to satisfy cravings without adding a lot of calories to their diets. Still, these artificially sweetened beverages are loaded with chemicals that are just as bad (if not worse) for people than their sugary counterparts.

There hasn't been much research done on the safety of these beverages for humans, let alone unborn babies, but a new study has found there may be a link between the consumption of diet soda and an increased risk of premature birth.

The Danish study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at nearly 60,000 women who reported on their diet, including how many soft drinks they consumed each day beginning at around 25 weeks of pregnancy. About 5 percent of the women in the study delivered their babies before 37 weeks. Women who had at least one serving of diet soda a day while they were pregnant were 38 percent more likely to deliver pre-term than women who drank no diet soda at all. Women who had at least four diet sodas a day were nearly 80 percent more likely to deliver preterm. The association was the same for normal-weight and overweight women.

The Calorie Control Council, a lobbying group for companies that make and distribute low-calorie foods, released a statement calling the study "misleading".

"This study may unduly alarm pregnant women. While this study is counter to the weight of the scientific evidence demonstrating that low-calorie sweeteners are safe for use in pregnancy, research has shown that overweight and obesity can negatively affect pregnancy outcomes," Beth Hubrich, a dietitian with the council, said in the statement. "Further, low-calorie sweeteners can help pregnant women enjoy the taste of sweets without excess calories, leaving room for nutritious foods and beverages without excess weight gain ‚ÄĒ something that has been shown to be harmful to both the mother and developing baby."
Still, according to the study's authors, only diet soda was linked to preterm delivery and not sugar-sweetened soda, meaning the findings suggest that the artificial sweetener itself, not soda drinking, could account for the relationship. However, they add, other possible causes for the link can't be ruled out.