Dangerous little brown bubbles

Remember Crystal Pepsi? Does that stir something buried deep in your memory bin?

Crystal Pepsi was a colorless cola that consumers rejected almost immediately back in the early 90s. Nobody wanted anything to do with a cola they could see through. They took one sip and went running back to their caramel color.

That's the stuff they put in cola to give it the rich brown hue that cola drinkers seem to love.

Whatever Madison Avenue madman came up with the idea to call it "caramel" was a smart cookie. This artificial coloring has nothing to do with caramel at all. But it's much easier to tempt cola drinkers with the suggestion of caramel rather than what it really is: a chemical called 4-methylimidazole (also known as 4-Mel).

Caramel color sounds tasty. 4-Mel sounds like industrial soap. No contest.

But you might actually be better off glugging liquid soap than drinking caramel color, which causes cancer in mice. In California, foods and beverages have to display a label that warns of potential cancer risk if they contain more than 29 mcg of 4-Mel. A recent Consumer Reports investigation tested a can of cola that tipped the scales at 195 mcg!

That might help explain the results of a National Cancer Institute study that associated soda consumption with endometrial cancer in older women. Other studies have linked the brown bubbly to pancreatic and esophageal cancers.

A Consumer Reports toxicologist hit the nail on the head when he said, "There's no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown."

I think he's being way too generous by including cola soft drinks in the category of "food." In fact, soft drinks in general should be categorized as "avoidable and unnecessary."

This April has been a cruel month for soda drinkers. If you missed it, you can go here to read new details about the soda habit that sharply increases risk of stroke and heart attack.


Consumer Reports: Too many sodas contain potential carcinogen: (cnn.com)