It's hard not to startle from this headline: Tumor-causing chemical found in Diet Coke and Pepsi. This was taken from a study released on Monday, which revealed 4-methylimidazole, a color additive, was discovered in some Coca Cola and Pepsi products.
Now the group behind the study, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to step in.
"Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer," says CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a press release. "If companies can make brown food coloring that is carcinogen-free, the industry should use that."
4-methylimidazole is a common food additive used in caramel coloring, which gives soda its dark, coal-like color. Soda companies have already been pressured to remove it because it allegedly causes cancer. Pepsi has already made efforts to reduce the amount of 4-methylimidazole in its soda products.
According to CSPI, 29 micrograms is the food additive's maximum safety limit. Samples collected from various Washington, D.C. stores showed Coca Cola and Pepsi products had at least 103 micrograms per 12-ounce serving.
This, CSPI says, is enough to cause cancer.
However, according to Reuters, the FDA disputes this claim, noting that its cancerous properties were only observed in rodent studies, which are not proof of a chemical's health risk in humans. Some chemicals or foods can create health risks in rodents that are not otherwise observed in humans, such as aspartame.
But even if it were true, the FDA says, consumers would have to consume staggering amounts of soda -- more than a thousand cans a day.
This begs the question: Is this just another case of a group misinterpreting data or studies to fit their own agenda? Jacobson himself has a history of rallying against soda consumption, suggesting it should contain warning labels about how it contributes to obesity and tooth decay. He has also rallied for higher taxes against unhealthy food, an effort that was met with controversy. Is Jacobson able to review these findings objectively, or is he merely using them to fit his own agenda?
Surely, evidence of cancer in rodents is alarming, but jumping to conclusions -- assuming that humans would also be at risk, without any direct, causational evidence -- may be jumping the gun here.
Still, this doesn't mean it's okay to guzzle it like water, says TIME Healthland. Regular soda is not calorie-free, and drinking too much on a daily basis can lead to weight gain, and ultimately, obesity.
Your best bet: Ignore the scare tactics but drink soda in moderation.
Ann Olson is a freelance reporter and diet expert who dispels common diet and nutrition myths on her blog, The Wellness Chick.
- Diet & Weight Loss
- Food and Drug Administration