Another Deadly Reason Why You Should Stop Drinking Soda
As a public health threat, soda is less the suspect than the messenger. Thanks to countless infographics, PSAs, and news stories revealing the astonishing number of teaspoons of sugar contained in a can of soda, it’s clear that the sweetener is the real culprit. High levels of consumption are linked not only with obesity but with the development of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
There’s more to worry about when it comes to soda—namely, cancer. According to a new study by Consumer Reports and the Center for a Livable Future at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, sodas routinely have high levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, a common component of the caramel coloring that gives cola drinks their signature brown hue. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the amount of 4-MEI used in soda formulations, but in California products that contain more than 29 micrograms of the coloring agent must bear a label noting that it can cause cancer.
According to the analysis, which was published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday, based on current levels of consumption and the levels of 4-MEI found in retails samples, “we would expect to see between 76 and 5,000 cases of cancer in the U.S. over the next 70 years from 4-MEI exposure alone.”
The researchers looked at 110 sodas bought at retail locations in New York and California. According to the study, the highest concentration of 4-MEI was found in Malta Goya, while Coca-Cola had the lowest.
“We don’t think any food additive, particularly one that’s only purpose is to color food brown, should elevate people’s cancer risk,” said Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports' Food Safety & Sustainability Center. “Ideally, 4-MEI should not be added to food.”
The study comes a day after Nestlé announced that it plans to drop artificial ingredients, including food dyes, from its candy products by the end of the year. In addition to switching Red 40 and Yellow 5 for plant-based coloring agents, which are used more broadly, the candy company is looking to remove caramel coloring from nine products. Similarly, brewer Newcastle recently announced that it will remove caramel coloring from its signature brown ale.
According to Consumer Reports, the findings of the study have been made available to lawyers at the California attorney general's office because some of the levels tested violated voter-approved labeling laws, and the group is asking the feds to regulate the usage of 4-MEI in food products.