Need another reason to ditch soda?
Researchers say Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi contain a chemical that causes cancer in animals, and a consumer group says the chemical may be responsible for thousands of human deaths every year.
Add this to the 150 empty calories; the 10 teaspoons of high-fructose corn syrup in a can of regular soda; the 25 percent greater chance of developing diabetes by drinking a can a day; and a 50-percent chance of becoming obese with two cans daily. Perhaps it is time to rethink your drink.
“Caramel coloring” is added to soda to make it dark brown. Listing it among the ingredients on a food label implies it’s a natural ingredient made from melting sugar, but, in fact, soda companies use a different, cheaper chemical process to form caramel coloring. They add ammonia or ammonia and sulfite to reduce the sugar, and that creates a byproduct, 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MI, which ends up in sodas in varying amounts.
In rat studies, large amounts of 4-MI caused lung, liver and thyroid cancer as well as leukemia.
The National Toxicology Program of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which conducted the studies, claims there is clear evidence that 4-MI is an animal carcinogen.
The issue is whether 4-MI could also cause cancer in humans.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit group, believes 4-MI is responsible for thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year, and it asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban it.
The FDA disagrees and claims the amount of 4-MI in caramel-colored sodas is too small to pose a problem. The FDA believes you would have to drink 1,000 sodas a day to be at risk.
California has issued its own guidelines, deeming 4-MI a cancer-causing chemical and requiring food manufacturers to add a warning on food labels if a product exceeds 29 micrograms per serving.
This year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest tested sodas from grocery store shelves and found servings of Coca-Cola and Pepsi with five times that limit. The group again petitioned the FDA to ban this additive chemical, or at least provide consumers with more accurate information by requiring manufacturers to list “ammonia-sulfite process caramel coloring” or “chemically modified caramel coloring” on the food label.
Pepsi and Coca-Cola have re-formulated their products to avoid a cancer-warning label in California, but samples in other states and worldwide still contain high levels of 4-MI. Both companies have vowed to decrease the amount across the U.S. and then worldwide, but it is unclear when that will occur without an FDA mandate.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest claims you can manufacture caramel coloring without any carcinogen, but it costs four times as much, and companies do not want to lose profits.
Americans, on average, each drank 45 gallons of soft drinks last year, or a little over a can a day, and most popular were Coke, Diet Coke and Pepsi.
The American Beverage Association, a trade group that represents the billion-dollar soda companies, claims the science simply does not show that 4-MI is a threat to human health. Now that’s reassuring.
Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and nutrition. Send your questions to her at www.wicked goodhealth.com.