We know that consumers of sugar-sweetened cola are already at risk for diabetes, obesity, and various other diseases, but the risks don’t end there. The millions of people consuming more than 1,970 milliliters of soda a day around the world are also at risk for cancer, specifically due to a carcinogenic chemical in the form of caramel coloring.
Caramel coloring is totally unnecessary, and is used only to make the color of soda more “appealing,” to consumers. Unfortunately, it could be raising your risk of getting cancer every time you drink a soda containing it. Adolescents are especially at risk since they tend to consume soft drinks most frequently. (Not to mention that even many ‘natural’ sodas are being sold with GMO sugar inside, with their own detrimental health effects.)
An analysis conducted via laboratory tests by Consumer Reports last year on 11 different soft drinks found that as little as one can a day could be enough to expose individuals to a potentially cancer-causing chemical known as 4-MEI (short for 4-methylimidazole).
4-MEI is formed during the manufacturing of caramel color that is added to many widely-consumed beverages.
“There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown,” commented toxicologist Dr. Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center.
Only in California do soft-drinks currently have to have a warning label which states they contain the carcinogenic 4-MEI, but only if they “contain enough to pose a risk.” (29 mcg of 4-MEI every day.)
The problem is that of the 110 samples of various brands of soda tested by John Hopkins Center for a Livable future and Consumer Reports, is that soda contained varying levels of 4-MEI – from 9.5 mcg per liter to 963 mcg per liter.
“Routine consumption of certain beverages can result in 4-MEI exposures greater than 29 mcg a day.”
This is the level that triggers a new case of cancer in every 100,000 people consuming the drink.
Related: Is Diet Soda Bad for You?
Furthermore, this toxicity level had already been established by previous studies in mice and rats conducted by the US National Toxicology Program, yet our soft drinks continued to contain caramel coloring, with little awareness given to the public of its cancer-causing nature.
The researchers behind the Consumer Reports analysis say that there is not a single brand of soda one should avoid to minimize carcinogenic exposure sine the levels were so variable. For instance, some types of diet soda had high levels of the chemical, while others had very low concentrations. However, in the sampled collected, Malta Goya had the highest 4-MEI concentration while Coca-Cola produced the lowest value.
California listed 4-MEI as a carcinogen in 2011 under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 – better known as Proposition 65.
This proposition suggested that “federal regulation of 4-MEI in caramel color may be appropriate.”
Considering the ridiculous amounts of soda that Americans drink, this chemical is indeed a hazard.
ConsumerReports.org has produced a video giving information about 4-MEI in soda drinks.
5 Great Natural Substitutes for Soda
There are many ways you can avoid sugar-laden and artificial, ‘diet’ sodas that also contain carcinogenic caramel coloring.
- 1. Make your own flavored water – Simply by adding some fresh fruit or squeezed lemon and lime to ice cold water, and storing it the refrigerator for something quick and easy to grab when you are thirsty can help you kick the Coca-Cola and Pepsi habit. You can also freeze fruit juice in ice cube trays and flavor your water this way. Stay away from Vitamin Water and other drinks made by Coca-Cola – it isn’t natural and they’ve been sued over its contents. Drinking pure water is also alkalizing (cancer-reducing) and helps you to boost natural immunity.
- 2. Try cucumber water – If you just don’t like the taste (or lack of taste) of plain water, cucumber slices or spears added to water can make it taste even more refreshing, and can reduce heart burn, improve your skin with high levels of magnesium and potassium, and even help you recover from dehydration more quickly after an intense work out. Those are just some of many health benefits of cucumbers.
- 3. Make your own seltzer – Simply mix 100% organic, freshly squeezed juice with a little uncolored seltzer water (also known as carbonated water, pop water, or club soda) and you have a delicious, more nutritious substitute for carcinogenic soft drinks. (Just be sure to get natural club soda, not the kind with ‘extra’ ingredients that are also unhealthy).
- 4. Replace soft drinks with green tea – You can drink it hot or cold. Green tea boosts your metabolism and is known to have some of the highest antioxidant levels of all types of tea. Matcha green tea has the highest nutritional value and is even considered to be medicinal in many cultures. It also combats many cancers, specifically guarding against cancer of the digestive system.
- 5. Just juice! – Juicing fruits and vegetables is one way to not only minimize cancer, but defend against it – all while boosting your overall health drastically. Many people have lost weight, improved poor complexions, increased their energy levels, and treated diseases simply by juicing. If you miss drinking brown colas, simply add a little red beet to your green juice, and you’ll have something close! If you don’t like juice, you can also try a green smoothie. They can be a delicious replacement for unhealthy soft drinks.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.