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Caramel coloring is a widely used artificial food colour ranging from tan-yellow to black and is obtained by heating a sugar compound with ammonium compounds, acids, or alkalis.

It is used in soda beverages, baked goods, pre-cooked meats, soy and Worcestershire sauces, chocolate-flavored products, beer.

Carcinogenic agent in your soda

Research led by Johns Hopkins University  and US Consumer Reports suggested that legal intervention is needed to cut the amount of 4-MEI found in caramel colour.

Researchers built on an analysis of 4-MEI concentrations in 11 different soft drinks to estimate exposure to the chemical from caramel-coloured soft drinks. They then related this potential cancer causing agent to the regular consumption of these drinks in the US. The study claimed that regular consumption of soft drinks containing this chemical appeared to pose ‘excess cancer risks’.

In 2007, studies by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found that contaminants present in the caramel colour causes cancer in male and female mice and possibly in female rats.

In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, concluded that 2- and 4-methylimidazole present in caramel colour are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

The State of California’s Environmental Protection Agency listed ammonia-caramel coloring as a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65.

In March 2012, when CSPI published the results of a study that found levels up to 150 micrograms per can of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola purchased in Washington, DC, the soft-drink giants announced that they had reduced the contaminant to below California’s threshold for action in products distributed in California.

They said they would market the less-contaminated products throughout the country, which Coca-Cola did in 2013 and PepsiCo did by 2015. It is not known to us if their standards for India follow the California standards in this regard.

Life is worth much more and so it would be worth avoiding or drinking less colas and other ammonia-caramel-colored beverages not only because of risk from the 4-methylimidazole, but, of course, because the products contain excess sugar and promote obesity and tooth decay.


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