Caramel coloring… sounds appealing, right? Caramel coloring is an additive that literally serves no purpose except to enhance the color of certain foods and products. Unlike the caramel you might make at home by melting sugar in a saucepan, the artificial brown coloring is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures. The main place you can find this coloring is soda, but it is in many other things that you wouldn’t even think of- breads, cereals, donuts, fruit preserves, ice cream, pet food, potato chips, cooked meat and poultry, spices, flavored teas, vinegar and liquor. Once you hear about the health risks associated with it, I’m sure you will decide that you will take colorless food over it any day!
One of the biggest concerns is that caramel coloring is linked to cancer. A chemical, 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), is formed during heating, and this chemical is highly carcinogenic. In January 2011, The Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban 4-MEI. Somehow though, the FDA continues to allow it to be in our food. A joint analysis by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and US Consumer Reports has suggested that legal intervention is needed to cut the amount of 4-MEI found in this food coloring.
Other health concerns include high blood pressure, immune system deficiency and allergic reactions. The high blood pressure is due to the caramel coloring containing advanced glycation end products, which are known to contribute to increased oxidant stress and inflammation. The immune system deficiency is due the coloring causing a reduction in white blood cell counts and the allergic reactions are can happen if the person consuming it has celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a dairy allergy. The International Technical Caramel Association claims, “Caramel color has been a "go-to" ingredient in many countries for centuries. It can enhance naturally occurring colors, correct natural variations in color, and replace color that is lost to light degradation during food processing and storage. Caramel colors can produce yellow, reddish, light brown, dark brown and black hues. The addition of caramel color helps consumers enjoy a predictable appearance of packaged foods and beverages. It reduces batch-to-batch color variation resulting from food processing. This helps consumers to visually experience consistency in their favorite products. In short, caramel color is a crowd-pleaser” This passage is verbatim from their website, under the “Benefits” tab. Somehow, I don’t think our pioneer ancestors were ingesting 4-MEI on a daily basis, and it’s highly likely that it didn’t even exist!
Next time you are at the grocery store, pick up some of your favorite items and see if there is caramel coloring in it. If there is, choose something else!
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