Some recent research that specifically looked at the potential health implications of soda found a potential link between the ‘caramel colour’ used in some soda beverages. The caramel colouring is common in colas and other dark soft drinks, and until recently has not warranted any cause for concern. However, this recent investigation undertaken by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that between 44 and 58% of people aged 6 or above have at least one can of soda a day…this is shocking! Aside from the calorie and acid implications of this, it is now thought that the caramel colouring is actually exposing people to high amounts of 4- methylimidazole (4-MEI), a possible human carcinogen that is formed during the manufacturing of some forms of this caramel colour.
What should you do?
As a consumer we are obligated to use common sense and discretion when making nutrition and health decisions, and part of this decision making process has to stem from the research that scientists provide. If we are aware of a potential risk, then we should take steps to avoid it OR at least limit it. Evidence is changing all the time, but the most recent info is clear…4- methylimidazole may (and I emphasise ‘may’) pose health risks in the general population (something that Coca- Cola themselves have addressed). This said, one piece of evidence doesn’t mean it is 100% going to increase your risk of cancer, and in a world of scare mongering why would you listen to this latest piece of advice. However…I would argue that whether you want to heed this latest warning on 4-MEI or not, reducing the amount of soda you consume in general can only be in your best interests. Soft drinks can be deleterious to health due to their sugar, additives and acid content alone. If a completely avoidable risk was present and you knew exactly what you’ve got to do to avoid it, you’d be crazy not to steer clear of it, right!?
Although this most recent research is pretty damning to companies that use Caramel colour in their soft drinks, the largest of all brands appear to have at least acknowledged the concerns. You only have to look on Coca-Cola’s Great Britain site and you’ll notice that the first question on the ingredients FAQ list is ‘Is Caramel colouring safe’? Good to see that they’ve recognised the question, however the answer might surprise you. Although they recognise the State of California’s decision to require a warning label on some food products containing trace levels of 4-MEI, they don’t agree that the science supports this. Despite this, the company have asked their Caramel suppliers to make the necessary manufacturing process modifications to meet the Prop 65 requirement. They will therefore look to expand the use of the modified caramel globally, but their timeline on this effort is still being developed.
Science Daily, (2015). Popular soda ingredient, caramel color, poses cancer risk to consumers. Retrieved 23rd February, 2015, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218191653.htm
Tyler J. S. Smith, Julia A. Wolfson, Ding Jiao, Michael J. Crupain, Urvashi Rangan, Amir Sapkota, Sara N. Bleich, Keeve E. Nachman. Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (2): e0118138 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118138