If you're like 48% of Americans, you gulp down at least one soda a day. For thousands of those people, that habit may be cutting their lives short.
According to a new investigation conducted by researchers from Consumer Reports and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in the next 70 years, between 76 and 5,000 Americans will develop otherwise avoidable cancer from consuming a common soda additive called 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a carcinogenic byproduct of some types of caramel color.
The study pairs previous research from Consumer Reports, which analyzed 4-MEI concentrations in over 100 soft drink samples purchased in the U.S., and population beverage consumption data from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES).
"Soft drink consumers are being exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary cancer risk from an ingredient that is being added to these beverages simply for aesthetic purposes," said senior author Keeve Nachman in a press release. "This unnecessary exposure poses a threat to public health and raises questions about the continued use of caramel coloring in soda."
Though, the authors note, just because soda has caramel coloring listed in the ingredients does not mean that 4-MEI is a chemical used in that coloring. But the sodas they found associated with the most risk were Malta Goya, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Pepsi One.
PepsiCo has stated in the past that consumers didn't need to worry about the potential carcinogen in its products because most customers drank less than a can a day of Pepsi products. But this study provides evidence that 4-MEI has the potential to cause thousands of preventable cancers in the next few decades.
But, unfortunately, soda is not the only place you can run into 4-MEI. According to the FDA, it can be formed during cooking, like when coffee beans are roasted or bread is baked.
So maybe it's time to toss out that six-pack of Pepsi in your fridge and add this to the already long list of reasons soda is probably one of the worst things you could ever put into your body.
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Note: A sentence in an earlier version of this article, which mentioned a statistic about heroin overdoses, has since been removed.