Another Reason to Quit Cola [Caramel Coloring]

photo credit: Jorge Bach, CSPI

Last week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to ban certain types of caramel coloring because their production process creates carcinogenic chemicals:

In contrast to the caramel one might make at home by melting sugar in a saucepan, the artificial brown coloring in colas and some other products is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures. Chemical reactions result in the formation of 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole, which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats. read more…

The studies were conducted by the National Toxicology Program, a division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

What you need to know:

Although soy sauce and other products contain caramel coloring, it is in small amounts. The problem with soda is the large amount of coloring per serving. And, CSPI says, to put the risk of cancer in context, the far bigger problem with sugary sodas is obesity and obesity related diseases.

Here’s a typical cola ingredient list

Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavors, Caffeine.

Let’s remind ourselves -

  • The amount of sugar in a cup is 7 teaspoons.Many people drink multiple servings per day.
  • Most soft drinks use high fructose corn syrup, whose effects on metabolism scientists are still arguing over.
  • Phosphoric acid leaches calcium from bones, among other things.
  • And now we learn that the caramel coloring used is carcinogenic.

Need any more reasons to quit soda, or at least drastically reduce drinking occasions to Christmas and your birthday?

What to do at the supermarket:

Do yourself and your family a favor. Limit your consumption of soft drinks. Just skip the beverage aisle in the supermarket. Learn to enjoy tap water.

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  • Ken Leebow

    I recommend making a switch to carbonated water. After one week of making the switch, try drinking the sugared-stuff. You’ll find that it tastes terrible.

    If that’s not enough to make you switch, view you annual consumption of sugar by drinking one 12-ounce soda per day … it ain’t a pretty picture:

    • Sjakubik

      Wow…thanks for sharing this.

  • OriginalBuddha

    1) Any “soy sauce” that contains coloring isn’t really soy sauce. If you insist on consuming fake soy sauce at least buy Bragg liquid amino’s

    2) Continuing to pay attention let alone quoting CSPI aka The Food Police hurts your cred.

  • Dave

    Sage advice. I was an addicted Coke drinker for ten years. Quit last summer. I lost 15 pounds almost immediately, feel a lot better in the mornings, and my problems with acid and heartburn have completely disappeared. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    • Sjakubik

      Dave – How did you kick the habit. I’ve tried many times and seem to always go back.

  • Guest

    I’m one of the (evil) industry food scientists out there who reads this blog. The industry reaction from the color manufacturers has been to produce letters that say “our products are safe and there’s numerous studies to show our caramel color won’t cause cancer. The chemicals that CSPI is complaining about are present naturally and at similar levels in many common foods. Also, F*#* YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON CSPI.”

    They don’t SAY that part, but it’s implied.

    If this gets traction, all that will happen is the market for non-sulfite containing caramel colors will go through the roof and people will slap a label claim on the front of the package to try to influence the marketplace.

  • Bella

    Question: would it be legit to say that the caramel color from Coke is “derived from corn syrup”? I’m curious b/c one of my fave products has “caramel color” in it, and when I asked the company where it comes from that’s how they responded. So just wondering if that is a really evasive way of saying that it’s really “made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures”…Help!

  • CCF

    Hate to break it to you, but the caramel coloring is not “another reason to quit cola.” It’s another reason to ignore the Center for Science in the Public Interest. According to Dr. Fred Guengerich, professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, in an ABC News report, you’d have to drink 1,000 sodas a day to increase your risk of cancer from the caramel coloring. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that that’s not going to happen.

    • Fooducate

      Thanks “Center for Consumer Freedom” (CCF) for sharing your viewpoint. We’ll stick to tap water nonetheless ;-)

      • Sd155racer

        Lmao. Tap water is so bad for you its pitiful. Do some research on sodium fluoride.

      • Sd155racer

        Lmao. Tap water is so bad for you its pitiful. Do some research on sodium fluoride.

      • jay

        Its sad how American fall victim to ignorance and go by what another average human being tells them.

    • watchful

      It’s getting so now if I see that a statement has been made by the Center for “Science” in the “Public Interest” I am automatically on my guard for half truths, if not outright falsehoods.

    • hmmmm

      anything you put in yourself is still in yourself regardless of quantity. your body processes it no matter how much you have and there are certainly unknown risks in these uneccessary ingredients.

    • Andy Franknhoff

      Hate to break it to you, CCF, but we’re not all as gullible as you “consumer” groups would like to think. Readers, beware of these guys. They’re PR for food and beverage companies, restaurants and other trade groups. Check out for some interesting reading.

      • Sam Supowit

        Doesn’t change the fact that this article is bullshit. People should limit their intake of anything with lots of sugar to avoid diabetes and other health complications…. but calling caramel coloring carcinogenic because of some overhyped studies on lab rats that were blasted with insane doses of the stuff… that’s just scaremongering.

  • flourideactionnetwork

    Quit sodas yes drink tap water NO! one word “flouride”

  • Twechef

    I’ve had 2 kidney stones in the past two years my urologist tells me they’re formed from caramel coloring. Let me tell you it’s easier not drinking coke than it is passing one of those puppies

  • mike

    Tap water is not good either. Drinking filtered water is best.