Does Caramel Color Cause Cancer?

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Does Caramel Color Cause Cancer?

Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from colas and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring. It helps grocery stores sell more than a billion servings of food and beverages a day. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of certain artificial caramel colorings can lead to the formation of carcinogens such as 4-methylimidazole, which causes cancer in mice but not rats (or at least, not male rats). However, it is unclear whether humans are more like mice or rats in terms of their response to the carcinogen.

To be safe, California officially listed it as a carcinogen and started requiring warning labels on soft drinks containing more than 29 micrograms per serving. The soft drink industry was unsuccessful in opposing the action, so they were forced to reduce carcinogen levels in their products—but only in California. Buy Coke anywhere else, and it may have up to five times the limit (See Is Caramel Color Carcinogenic?).

There’s another class of additives that the soda industry uses to make its soda brown (see Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola). There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

Similarly the junk food industry uses titanium dioxide to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

The meat industry has also used potentially toxic additives for cosmetic purposes such as arsenic-containing drugs (Arsenic in Chicken) and phosphate additives in chicken to make poultry pink. Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, and acanthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish).

It’s amazing the risks the food industry will take to alter appearances (Artificial Food Colors and ADHD).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

9 responses to “Does Caramel Color Cause Cancer?

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      1. You carry a lot of influence with your patients, I am sure. Please suggest they avoid all supplements and “vegan health foods” snacks/vegan ice-creams/cheeses/yougurts/cookies/soy milks etc. that contain titanium dioxide. Sooner or later ‘Whole Foods Market” will get the message and stop carrying products that contain titanium dioxide. They already prohibit certain products because of other seemingly less harmful ingredients.

        1. Good point. In my opinion – for what it is worth – a mostly plant based diet 95-98% (with an occasional piece of meat or cheese) is much better than a junk based vegan diet. The key word is WFPD 95-98% of the time.

  1. “Similarly the junk food industry uses titanium dioxide to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease).”

    The “healthy vegan food product industry” and the “vitamin industry” also use titanium dioxide, at times in their products. We fortunately have labels on products to give us the heads up to avoid these products.

    1. The use of titanium dioxide by vitamin manufactures — in the capsules mostly — is mind-numbingly stupid.

      As ever the informed consumer must read labels and *not purchase* from offending ‘health’ companies.

  2. Off topic: Are amino acid supplements safe for vegans? I sometimes struggle to absorb/benefits (it seems)
    from beans, grains, nuts, seeds. I know some people take coconut aminos but I doubt this product contains enough amino acids to make a positive difference (I could be wrong). I am on a path hoping to be 100 percent vegan but have had to partake in a bit of shellfish to survive, as far as strength, protein/amino acids, B12. FYI…. might add, I fully agree that there are 100 percent vegans who thrive, excel, and have no need at all to ingest non-plant foods.

    So, I have biig concerns about supplemental amino acids, as to what this could do harmfully/unnaturally to the body. Any science available on this? But I am willing to give it a try if the science suggests it is ok to proceed.

  3. In the GMO articles Dr. Greger dismissed animal studies. So why bring them up here? They are obviously of no use for humans if there are carcinogenic in mice, but not in male rats.

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