Sodium benzoate

  1. The true risks of soda

    Sugar is probably the most dangerous ingredient in most sodas -- but I have to say "probably" here, because it's got some pretty tough competition.

    Most sodas aren't drinks so much as water mixed with a collection of ingredients that seem like they belong in chemistry kits instead of food and beverages.

    And that includes the so-called caramel color.

    As I told you last year, caramel color isn't a simple food dye, and it's nothing like caramel candy like it's name implies. It's actually the byproduct of a pressurized treatment that combines sugar with ammonia. (Yes, ammonia!)

    One of the "extra" ingredients created by this process is 4-methylimidazole, a chemical with such strong links to cancer that California law requires a warning label on anything that contains certain amounts of it.

    And many sodas contain way more than those amounts -- up to eight times what the state considers to be the safe upper limit.

    Now, soda companies trying to avoid the warning label are starting to use a new version of the color that has less 4-methylimidazole.

    But is that really worth celebrating? Soda now has less of a cancer-causing chemical?

    And let's face it, even if they managed to completely do away with caramel color -- or at least the 4-methylimidazole -- soda would still be bubbling over with cancer risk, thanks to all the sugar.

    Diets high in sugar have been linked to any number of cancers -- and if you're unlucky enough to get the disease, sugar will actually help it to grow and spread. It's like food for tumors.

    Believe it or not, the risks don't stop there.

    Sodas often contain phosphates, which can pull calcium from your bones and leave you battling osteoporosis. They can also cause kidney stones and -- along with that sugar -- rot your teeth right out of your head.

    Some sodas even contain sodium benzoate, a preservative that can cause the kind of cell damage that leads to cancer, cirrhosis, and Parkinson's disease -- just to name a few.

    And the fake sugars used in diet sodas come with plenty of risks of their own -- they've been linked to everything from cancer to migraines.

    So don't waste any time looking at the ingredients labels, trying to figure out which soda might be better than the other. Just skip them all.

  2. Dyes linked to hyper kids

    Kids don't need much help getting hyper--they're bundles of energy, and they don't come with an "off" button.

    But some foods can put them into overdrive, turning an already amped-up child into a full-blown monster--and there's one ingredient in particular that parents need to watch out for: artificial coloring.

    Finally, an FDA panel has agreed that food dyes are responsible for rotten behavior and even ADHD-like symptoms in at least some kids... but don't expect them to actually do anything about it.

    Instead of calling for warning labels or even an outright ban on artificial colors as some scientists and parents groups want, the panel called for more research.

    That's code for "we're getting uncomfortably close to upsetting our pals in the food industry, so let's stop right here."

    But we don't need more studies, because researchers have been chasing the artificially colored rainbow for years--and there's no pot o' gold on the other side... just some of the rottenest little leprechauns you've ever seen.

    For example, two studies out of the U.K. found that kids given foods that contain artificial dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate start to climb the walls.

    Those studies and others like them helped move Europe light years ahead of us-- and foods with artificial colors sold there now carry labels that say they "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."

    That's a frightening thought when you consider that some foods can have up to nine different artificial colorings--and they're not all in cereals and Jell-O.

    You might know that cheese isn't normally day-glo yellow... but you may not realize that artificial colors are used regularly in everything from pickles to salmon.

    That's right--salmon: Farm-raised fish are fed dye pellets to give them the nice pink color their wild brethren have naturally.

    Of course, there's a much larger issue here and that's the fact that dyed foods are almost always processed foods--and you and your kids shouldn't be eating them anyway, no matter what kinds of colors are in them (or even if they contain no colors at all).

    As bad as dyes are, there are plenty of other ingredients that are far worse-- including the sugars and starches that make up the bulk of the modern American diet.

    Give this junk to a kid, and he could end up so nutritionally deficient that you're bound to see problems ranging from mood disorders to ADHD-like symptoms-- even if the foods they eat contain no dyes at all.

  3. Cola color in cancer link

    Soda is just about the most destructive blend of chemicals being sold for consumption today.

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