Caramel Coloring Causes Cancer: What’s Really in the Sodas You Drink

Washington, D.C.—The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has discovered a new health risk associated with soda, and it is now urging the Food and Drug Administration to step up and do something about it. The caramel coloring in sodas such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which is not actually made from natural caramel at all, has been found to be cancer-causing, says CSPI.

Natural caramel is made from melted sugar, however, the artificial caramel color in soda is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures. This chemical reaction produces 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole.

2-MI and 4-MI have been proven, in government-conducted studies, to cause lung, liver or thyroid cancer as well as leukemia in lab mice and rats.

CSPI is urging FDA to make it mandatory for soda companies to change the name of the caramel coloring on the ingredients section of their labels. Instead of “caramel coloring,” CSPI feels that “ammonia sulfite process caramel” or “ammonia process caramel,” would be more accurate and less misleading.

In California, 4-MI has been added to the list of “chemicals known to the state to cause cancer,” and under California’s Proposition 65, foods and other products containing more than certain levels of cancer causing chemicals must state that on their labels.

A statement issued by Coca-Cola denied that there was any truth to the allegations. “Our beverages are completely safe. CSPI’s statement irresponsibly insinuates that the caramel used in our beverages is unsafe and maliciously raises cancer concerns among consumers."

CSPI lists ingredients and additives that are safe, and ones you should avoid, on their website. Among the ones to avoid are ingredients found in soft drinks.

The FDA plans to meet on March 30-31 to discuss the issue.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2011 (online 3/7/11)