Watchdog group urges government to ban caramel coloring in soda

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: May 3rd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Worried about the caramel coloring in your soda? You should be, at least according to a major watchdog group that regularly targets the food and beverage industry.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of two kinds of caramel coloring typically found in colas. The group maintains the ingredients in the coloring have been linked to cancer, which the beverage industry vehemently denies.

Pure caramel is made by heating sugar. But the coloring found in popular colas is created by reacting sugars with ammonia. The C-S-P-I says government tests have proved the chemicals produced by this reaction to be carcinogenic.

Currently, the F-D-A allows the use of four types of caramel coloring. The C-S-P-I is calling for a ban on two types, known as 4-MEI and 2-MEI.

Is the group’s claim true? Scientists say there are merits on both sides of the issue. While some studies showed the chemicals increased the likelihood of cancer in mice, others showed they actually prevented some forms of cancer in male rats. Either way, you’d have to drink a whole lot of soda: humans would have to guzzle more than a thousand sodas per day to echo the study.

The C-S-P-I rose to fame in 1994 when it exposed the huge number of calories and fat found in movie theater popcorn. The group has also put pressure on ice cream retailers and chain restaurants to provide more nutritional labeling.

This isn’t the first time soda has been in the cross-hairs. In 1998, the group issued a report detailing the health problems related to the beverage, including obesity, tooth decay, type two diabetes and heart disease.

So whom should you believe? Health experts are certainly no fans of soda. And if you think about it, drinking something that’s been treated with ammonia does sound pretty gross.