Root beer is not only easy to find as it’s offered at most restaurants, but it can also feel like a safer choice since it is often derived from plants and botanicals. However, there are a number of things to keep in mind when drinking root beer while pregnant.
Although it is a botanical drink with roots (pun intended) in traditional medicine, the usual ingredients in store-bought varieties are safe for pregnancy. But like other sodas, it’s best to enjoy root beer in moderation, especially when pregnant.
When it comes to food and drink safety during pregnancy, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s actually important to watch out for and what is just media hype. Consider this your guide to root beer while pregnant – both what’s safe, and also the skinny on the most popular brands.
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Is It Safe to Drink Root Beer When Pregnant?
First brewed by European colonists in America, the original root beer was just that: a beer made from roots.
Specifically, root beer was made with sarsaparilla and sassafras, which are herbs used in traditional indigenous medicine. It was first intended to be a health drink, then as an alternative to booze when a non-alcoholic version was born (source: Sprecher Brewing).
Today’s root beer is more root and less beer. Most modern root beer brands use flavorings, extracts, and other ingredients like honey to provide its distinct flavor.
Some smaller companies may still use whole spices including nutmeg and vanilla, but sassafras has since been banned by the FDA after discovering it can cause liver cancer (source: Encyclopedia of Toxicology, Memorial Sloan Kettering).
Because manufacturers are no longer able to use sassafras (and for good reason!), some companies have turned to quillaia extract to mimic the taste of the two banned botanicals. Quillaia’s safety was recently re-evaluated.
The World Health Organization found that when consumed in typical foods and drinks, including root beer, there is no safety risk. Additionally, quillaia did not affect the reproductive system (source: European Food Safety Journal).
If you’re usually a fan of darker sodas, such as cola, it’s not uncommon to search for a lower-caffeine or caffeine-free substitute when expecting. Root beer tops this list for many women, but unfortunately not all root beer is caffeine free.
Some companies add caffeine into their beverage, but the amount should be listed on the label or can. Though this can be frustrating, the caffeine in root beer is typically less than other dark sodas or coffees.
With the changes to the recipe made since root beer’s creation centuries ago, modern-day root beer is safe to drink while pregnant. Of course, just like all sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks, root beer is best enjoyed in moderation.
Root Beer Brand Guide for Pregnancy
Every brand of root beer has its own special formula. So what exactly are the differences between the brands? I’ll break down the most popular ones below.
A&W Root Beer: A&W is a North American classic. While their restaurants aren’t as widespread as other fast-food chains, their root beer is much more popular. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of their restaurants, the root beer served there is freshly made with their blend of spices and herbs as well as cane sugar.
Anywhere else, A&W root beer will contain high fructose corn syrup and quillaia extract. No matter where you find their root beer, all of it is caffeine-free.
Mug Root Beer: Looking at the ingredients, Mug and commercial A&W (the stuff not from the restaurant) are nearly identical. Mug brand root beer is also flavored with quillaia extract and is caffeine-free.
Bundaberg: A lesser-known brand, Bundaberg might be more commonly known for its ginger beer. Bundaberg root beer is one of the varieties still brewed with sarsaparilla, along with other herbs including licorice, ginger, and vanilla (source: Bundaberg). Bundaberg root beer is yet another caffeine-free option.
Barq’s: Barq’s offers a lot of variety in their root beers, namely when it comes to caffeine content. Their original style does contain 22 mg of caffeine per 12-oz can. The diet version is caffeine-free, and to make things complicated, so is their original style – but only when it is dispensed from a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.
Virgil’s: Virgil’s is a smaller company with only two versions of root beer. Their ‘handcrafted root beer’ is sweetened with cane sugar, whereas their zero-calorie version is sweetened with a blend of erythritol and stevia. Both styles are also caffeine-free.
What About Homemade Root Beer During Pregnancy?
Do-it-yourself, or DIY, kitchen projects are often encouraged during pregnancy since you have control over what goes into your food and drinks. There are a number of homemade root beer recipes online. Homemade root beer can even be found at farmer’s markets.
There are two things to keep in mind when making or buying homemade root beer.
The first is that these recipes usually use short-term fermentation to get the bubbles. This means there is a potential for bacteria contamination, though likely not enough time to produce much, if any, alcohol.
The second consideration is the blend of herbs, botanicals, and spices used the flavor the root beer. Some homemade recipes still call for sassafras.
While the study that led the FDA to ban sassafras was based on giving mice very large amounts of the herb, it is likely still best to avoid any ingredients banned by the FDA, just to be on the safe side.
If you’re buying homemade or small-batch root beer at a farmer’s market or even from a friend, don’t be afraid to ask them exactly how they made the brew and which herbs they used to make sure you’re not accidentally drinking something made with unsafe herbs.
Can I Drink Caffeine-Free Root Beer When Pregnant?
The main concern with most sodas is caffeine, so some pregnant women are surprised to learn that caffeine isn’t the only thing to keep in mind when it comes to root beer.
For women trying to limit or cut out caffeine, root beer is a logical substitute for other caffeinated sodas such as cola. With the exception of Barq’s most other popular root beer brands are caffeine free, and all big-name brands are made from similar (and safe) ingredients.
Even when picking up a caffeine-free root beer, if you choose a locally made or ‘natural’ branded root beer, it is worth a look at the ingredients list to make sure there aren’t any unknown herbs used to flavor the brew.
Does Root Beer Contain Mercury?
A number of years ago, there were some scary news headlines claiming that root beer can cause mercury poisoning.
Though root beer is a far cry from fish, which is what we usually think about when it comes to limiting mercury exposure, seafood isn’t the only place you’ll find mercury. In fact, it’s a common contaminant in any number of places, including foods and drinks.
The study these headlines referenced, however, wasn’t specific to root beer. In 2009, researchers tested 20 different samples of high-fructose corn syrups, a sweetener often used in sodas and other drinks.
They found that some of the samples contained anywhere from 0.065-0.570 micrograms of mercury per gram of syrup, which likely came from corn syrup processing (source: BMC Environmental Health).
Just like eating fish, there is an upper limit for how much mercury is safe. If you’re enjoying root beer in moderation or as a special treat, then any mercury in the drink is not enough to cause any harm. Choosing options sweetened with cane sugar is another way to limit your mercury exposure.
Since its creation more than a century ago, root beer has transformed into its own category of drink.
Though no two brews are exactly the same, modern-day recipes are generally safe during pregnancy, and the differences in flavoring, sweetener, and even caffeine content between brands allow you to pick the drink that best suits you and your pregnancy.
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