Is Caramel Color Carcinogenic?

Is Caramel Color Carcinogenic?
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Concern that one of the most commonly-consumed food colorings may cause cancer has led to changes in soft drink formulation in California.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from cola[s] and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring,” helping to sell over a billion servings a day.

“Unfortunately, the manufacture 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. But, it’s “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 can].” 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.

Remember Coca Cola’s Tab Clear, though? Or, Crystal Pepsi? Clearly, they can do away with carcinogenic colorings altogether.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to The RocketeerRoadsidepictures, and .tungl via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Minh Nguyen and Jeff Thomas for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from cola[s] and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring,” helping to sell over a billion servings a day.

“Unfortunately, the manufacture 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. But, it’s “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 can].” 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.

Remember Coca Cola’s Tab Clear, though? Or, Crystal Pepsi? Clearly, they can do away with carcinogenic colorings altogether.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to The RocketeerRoadsidepictures, and .tungl via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Minh Nguyen and Jeff Thomas for their Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

There’s another class of additives that the soda industry uses to make its soda brown; see Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola.

The meat industry has also used potentially toxic additives for cosmetic purposes: arsenic-containing drugs to make chicken pink (see Arsenic in Chicken). Phosphate Additives in Chicken also help maintain the color of poultry. Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, while canthoxanthine keeps salmon pink (see Artificial Coloring in Fish).

The junk food industry uses titanium dioxide to whiten processed foods (see Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease). It’s amazing the risks the food industry will take to alter appearances (see Artificial Food Colors & ADHD).

There are other harmful additives in soda as well (see Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

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