Soda might be linked to cancer, according to a new study. 4- methylimidazole or 4-MEI is a compound that is a by-product of caramel coloring made during soda production. The Public Library of Science published a study last week revealing that half of all Americans are potentially exposing themselves to this dangerous carcinogen.
Study author Keeve Nachman stated that by doing so, they are opening themselves up to avoidable cancer. He urged the public to moderate the amount of soda they drink. If not, he suggests that the FDA step in and regulate the amount of 4-MEI in soda and other food products. In addition to sounding the alarm about high consumption levels, the study suggests that public awareness campaigns be mounted to let people know about the correlation between 4-MEI and cancer.
The Center for Environmental Health first reported this correlation, with the PLOS study more recently backing up their claims. Last year, this chemical compound was deemed carcinogenic and soda producers were ordered to either remove it or let consumers know the amount found in products. The state of California promptly altered the amount of 4-MEI in soft drinks to comply with the law. In subsequent tests, soda samples from California had significantly less 4-MEI than did samples in other states, New York in particular.
Popular media outlets also reported about the risk of cancer and 4-MEI. Television’s Dr. Oz thinks that soda might be linked to cancer. He revealed that some brands with natural labels can also contain caramel. After exposing the truth, he suggests that Americans limit the amount of dark sodas that they drink. He also wants government labeling and urges consumers to be cautious even with “all-natural” sodas. Consumer Reports analyzed 4-MEI levels in a number of different sodas.
They found more 4-MEI in diet soda than in their non-diet counterparts. Just like Dr. Oz., Consumer Reports requests that the FDA limit the amount of 4-MEI allowed in soda and other products. Dr. Rangan of Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability says, “(w)e just don’t think coloring your food brown should give you cancer.”
Adding caramel color is cosmetic and does nothing to enhance the taste of food and drink products. Any food product unnaturally colored brown is suspect. This includes pancake syrup, beer and even soy sauce. Since Americans drink more soda than they do pancake syrup or soy sauce, they are more likely to be exposed to 4-MEI via soft drink consumption.
In response to this study conducted by LPOS, soda maker Pepsi has decided to phase out their use of 4-MEI. At the same time,the giant soft drink maker insists that 4-MEI is not a health hazard. Interestingly, Pepsi’s #1 rival Coca-Cola has little 4-MEI because they already modified the composition of caramel color in their product. The soft drink with the highest level of 4-MEI is Goya’s Malta, with 350 micrograms per bottle.
Soda might be linked to cancer, but any food product with high levels of 4-MEI should be used judiciously. The chemical compound can also found in char-grilled products such as grilled meat and even coffee.
By Danielle Branch
Photo Courtesy of Sean Loyless – License
Photo Courtesy of Mike Mozart – License