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Does Caramel Color Cause Cancer?

Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from colas and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring. It helps grocery stores sell more than a billion servings of food and beverages a day. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of certain artificial caramel colorings can lead to the formation of carcinogens, such as 4-methylimidazole, which causes cancer in mice but not rats (or at least, not male rats). However, “it is unclear whether humans are more like mice or rats in terms of their response to the carcinogen.”

To be safe, California officially listed it as a carcinogen and started requiring warning labels on soft drinks containing more than 29 micrograms per serving (355 ml). The soft drink industry was unsuccessful in opposing the action, so they were forced to reduce carcinogen levels in their products—but only in California. Buy Coke anywhere else, and it may have up to five times the limit.

There’s another class of additives that the soda industry uses to make its soda brown (see Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola). There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

The junk food industry uses titanium dioxide to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

The meat industry has also used potentially toxic additives for cosmetic purposes such as arsenic-containing drugs (Arsenic in Chicken) and phosphate additives in chicken to make poultry pink. Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, and acanthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish).

It’s amazing the risks the food industry will take to alter appearances.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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Read more: Health, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Men's Health, Natural Remedies, Videos, Women's Health, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


+ add your own
6:36PM PDT on Aug 30, 2014

Everything causes cancer. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

10:16AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

good to know

1:01AM PDT on May 19, 2014

As with so food and beverages the proliferation of added chemical concoctions such as caramel coloring are just not in anyone's best interest-- except the chemical companies and corps selling the products.

8:22PM PDT on May 17, 2014

Thank you.

1:45PM PDT on May 17, 2014

TYFS caramel isn't my preference

9:10AM PDT on May 17, 2014


1:52AM PDT on May 17, 2014

noted,thank you

8:38PM PDT on May 16, 2014

Thank you!

12:36PM PDT on May 16, 2014

@ Alan l "is there anything that doesn't cause cancer?"

Yes Alan. Unprocessed organic foods.

12:12PM PDT on May 16, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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