“Which Has More Caramel Coloring Carcinogens:
Coke or Pepsi?” Caramel coloring may be THE
most widely consumed food coloring in
the world. Unfortunately, its manufacture
can sometimes lead to the formation
of a carcinogen called methylimidazole, which was identified as a
cancer-causing chemical in 2007. And so for the purposes of
their prop 65 labeling law California set the daily limit
at 29 micrograms a day. So how much cancer might
caramel-colored soft drinks be causing? We didn’t know… until now. A hundred and ten
soft drink samples were tested off
store shelves in California and
around New York. None of the carcinogen
was found in Sprite, for example, which is what
you’d expect since it’s not
caramel-colored brown. Among sodas that were, the highest levels were found
in Goya brand soda, and the lowest
in Coke products, about 20 times less than
in Pepsi products. Interestingly, California Pepsi
was significantly less carcinogenic than
New York Pepsi, presumably because of
the law in California. This supports the notion
that labeling laws like prop 65 can incentivize
manufacturers to reduce food-borne
chemical risks. Rather than just (singing:)
“wish they could all be California”… to protect consumers around
the rest of the country, federal regulations could
be a valuable approach to reducing excess
cancer risk. But how much cancer are
we talking about? Johns Hopkins researchers
calculated the cancer burden, an estimate of the number
of lifetime excess cancer cases associated with the consumption
of the various beverages. So at the average
U.S. soda intake, with the average levels
of carcinogens found, Pepsi may be causing
thousands of cancer cases, especially non-California
Pepsi products, which appear to
be causing 20 times more
cancer than Coke. Of course, no need
for any of them to have any
carcinogens at all. But we don’t have to
wait for government regulation, or corporate social
responsibility. We can exercise PERSONAL
responsibility and just stop drinking
soda altogether. Cutting out soda
may reduce our risk of becoming obese and
getting diabetes, and fatty liver disease,
and hip fractures, and rheumatoid arthritis,
and chronic kidney disease, and maybe gout as well. In children, daily
soda consumption may increase the odds
of asthma five-fold, and increase the risk of
premature puberty in girls, raising the likelihood
they start getting their periods before age 11 by
as much as 47%. If you look at the
back of people’s eyes, you can measure
the caliber of the arteries
in their retina, and the narrower they are,
the higher the risk of high blood pressure,
diabetes, and heart disease. If you do these kinds
of measurements on thousands of
12-year-olds, and asked them about their
soda drinking habits, children who consume
soft drinks daily had significantly
narrower arteries. So the message to patients
can no longer just be “Eat Less, Exercise More”, it matters WHAT you eat. Specific dietary advice
should be to significantly reduce the
consumption of processed food and added sugar and
to eat more whole foods.