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photo by jill o'connor for black licorice in pregnancy story, 9/30/20

Black licorice on Finland’s ‘avoid’ list during pregnancy

Study connects it to lower cognitive ability in offspring.

In the past week, many newspapers have reported that a candy-loving man in Massachusetts collapsed and died unexpectedly. The culprit? Loads of black licorice, consumed daily for three weeks, according to a case study in this month’s New England Journal of Medicine. 

It turns out that the glycyrrhizic acid found in black licorice candy can cause a rise in blood pressure as well as a sudden dip in potassium. And the FDA already has warned Americans that more than 2 ounces a day for two weeks can cause an abnormal heart rhythm. 

While pregnancy cravings can get a bit weird and specific (lemon Jell-O, anyone?), most women are probably not craving black licorice. But, in case you are, you should know there has been research in Finland — where black licorice is far more popular — linking lower cognitive ability, higher body weight and earlier puberty to high levels of maternal black licorice consumption in pregnancy.

Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare has included black licorice on its “not recommended” list of foods for pregnant women since 2016, though it does not advise against eating small amounts. The FDA recommends that big fans of black licorice of any age, pregnant or not, avoid eating a large amount at any one time and call a doctor if they notice a problem with heart rhythm or muscle weakness after eating it. 

And red Twizzlers and Original Red Red Vines? Yes, they’re bad for you because they’re essentially corn syrup and artificial flavor and food coloring, but they do not contain the glycyrrhizic acid that — when consumed regularly or excessively — can wreak havoc with potassium levels and blood pressure.

 

About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor is a longtime newspaper and magazine journalist. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.