Coca Cola and Pepsi Caramel Color Won't Give You Cancer

Coke and Pepsi have made convenient boogie men for public health advocates over the years. And the trend continues this week as the two companies announced that they are making changes to their cola recipes in response to California's adding an ingredient in their drinks to its list of probable carcinogens.

The caramel color used in both Pepsi and Coke contains a chemical compound called 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MI. In high enough quantities, 4-MI is carcinogenic, and a watchdog group called The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) claims that soda containing it "... is causing about 15,000 cancers in the U.S. population. 

Like many of CSPI's warnings about the American diet, this one is also ridiculous, maybe even outrageously stupid. The research investigating the effects of consuming 4-MI is mixed. Some studies have found that there are no ill effects; other researchers have concluded that it is carcinogenic in mice in high enough doses.

Either way, soda drinkers aren't consuming enough to do themselves any harm. As a spokesperson for the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pointed out, consumers would have to drink "well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents."

Soda certainly isn't healthy, and the sugar it contains is indeed harmful. But the caramel coloring in your favorite cola isn't going to kill you.

Photo CreditSean Loyless

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Cameron English

I cover public health, nutrition and science education for PolicyMic. I also write critical thinking exercises for high school science textbooks. My previous work includes freelance writing and editing for Science 2.0. I've never been paid by Monsanto for my opinions, though that would be awesome.

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