Yet Another Cancer Causing Ingredient Found in Sodas, Even ‘Natural’ Ones

That caramel-colored soda you are drinking may be giving you cancer.

As a savvy consumer, you probably already know about some of the shocking ingredients in soda: castoreum, which is extracted from a beaver’s anal glands, is used to make artificial raspberry flavoring in drinks. Aspartame is found in diet or sugar-free sodas and is believed to be carcinogenic and accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives and flavorings combined.

Want to read about more ways that soda is bad for you? Try reading this description of nine nasty side effects of soda.

Now a new study from Consumer Reports reveals that caramel color, the most common coloring in food and drinks, is potentially cancer-causing.

The idea of a food coloring that is added to many soft drinks and some foods to turn them brown may sound harmless. The catch is that this additive has no resemblance to real caramel. Instead, some types of this artificial coloring contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI).

As Consumer Reports explains:

In 2007, a federal government study concluded that 4-MeI caused cancer in mice and the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined the chemical to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2011. There’s no federal limit for levels of 4-MeI in foods and beverages, but as of January 7, 2012 California requires manufacturers to label a product sold in the state with a cancer warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI per day.

(Editor’s note: Care2 does not endorse animal testing and believes there are viable alternatives to medical research that do not involve the testing or killing of animals.)

However, none of the sodas that the group tested carried such a label.

Between April and December of 2013, researchers at Consumer Reports tested 110 bottles of various brands of soda for the 4-methylimidazole. They found the highest levels of the substance in Goya Malta, a malt-flavored soda popular in Latin American communities, and in various Pepsi products.

Overall, Consumer Reports found 4-MeI to be present in 11 different types of soda, but not all to the same degree.

For example, researchers found that on average, three of the brands—Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero—came in under 5 micrograms per can, a level Consumer Reports’ experts believe is more acceptable. Sprite, a clear soda that was tested as a control, showed no significant levels of 4-MeI.

On the other hand, some of the samples of Dr. Snap, a soda sold at Whole Foods with a “natural” label, had levels that exceeded the California warning-label threshold.

PepsiCo representatives told Consumer Reports that they don’t attach the warning label to their products in California because their research shows that consumers drink only about a third of a can of their products a day, on average—an amount that contains less than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI.

Really? Who drinks a third of a can only? What do they do with the rest of the can? It seems much more probable that consumers drink more than one can per day.

You can click here to see a chart illustrating the findings of Consumer Reports for all 11 brands of soda.

Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, who led this research, noted that 4-MeI is also present in some foods such as barbecue sauces, soups, imitation pancake syrup, gravy and canned mushrooms.

Consumer Reports is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate 4-MeI, but suggests that meanwhile, consumers should consider avoiding foods and beverages with caramel color.

I vote for drinking filtered water. Who needs soda anyway?

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven25 days ago

thanks for the article.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa1 years ago

Thank you

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe1 years ago

I'm a Dr. Pepper freak, so I checked. It's basically nothing compared to Pepsi.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O.2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Valerie A.
Valerie A.2 years ago


aaron b.
wiz w.2 years ago

thanks for the info x

Nicole H.
Nicole L.2 years ago


Lisa Wood
Lisa Wood2 years ago

Glad I gave up drinking any kind of soda.