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New Report Finds Something Potentially Deadly Lurking in Your Dark Soda

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"...should not be added to food."

The amount of sugar in soda and its relationship with weight gain and obesity might be reason enough to stop sucking on that straw, but a new report suggests a more nefarious disease could be associated with soda consumption.

According to Consumer Reports, some sodas contain a compound that is a potential carcinogen.

Studies have shown long-term exposure to 4-methylimidazole, a chemical that is in caramel colorings to help turn sodas brown, can increase lung cancer risk in mice. Though there is currently no limit on the amount of 4-MEI in food, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is assessing its cancer risk, according to California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

A new report evaluating exposure to a possible carcinogen through soda consumption suggests it should be eliminated from beverages completely. But federal regulatory bodies say consumers shouldn't be concerned. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Consumer Reports and the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study in the Journal PLOS One this week that evaluated levels 4-MEI in certain sodas and assessed possible exposure to it as a carcinogen.

According to the study, Malta Goya had the highest concentration of 4-MEI and Coca-Cola had the lowest (clear sodas were not involved in the study because they don't have caramel coloring). At the level of consumption that the study evaluated, exposure to 4-MEI from just soda could result in anywhere from 76 up to 5,000 cancer cases within the next 70 years.

“We don’t think any food additive, particularly one that’s only purpose is to color food brown, should elevate people’s cancer risk,” Dr. Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center, said according to Consumer Reports. “Ideally, 4-MEI should not be added to food.”

The FDA has pointed out though that studies of rodents and exposure to 4-MEI involved levels of the chemical that exceeds estimates humans are exposed to through soda. It also noted that just because soda has caramel coloring listed in the ingredients does not mean that 4-MEI is a chemical used in that coloring.

Soda is not the only source of 4-MEI in diets either. According to the FDA, it can be formed during cooking, like when coffee beans are roasted.

On the state level, the study said that state regulatory standards seem to be effective at reducing exposure to the possible carcinogen, but Consumer Reports encouraged federal regulations as well.

At this point, the FDA states on its website that it is "not recommending that consumers change their diets because of concerns about 4-MEI." The European Food Safety Authority, as pointed out by the FDA, also maintains that consumers should not be concerned about 4-MEI in their sodas contributing to cancer risk.

Watch Consumer Report's video about its findings:

(H/T: Gawker)

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