Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Diet Pop - Do You REALLY Know Enough?

You may or may not know that back in 1990, Diet Orange Crush was recalled in certain areas of the US because it had an elevated Benzene content.

Earlier that same year, there was a recall on Perrier spring water for the same reason.

Now, it's safe to say that benzene was not being added to these drinks on purpose. It turns out that two common ingredients in many drinks - sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can react to create benzene.

I'll be the first to admit that when I found this out, I was a little scared. From what I knew about benzene, this sounded like some pretty scary stuff.

You see, Benzene is an organic chemical compound that is used mainly as an industrial solvent and precursor in the production of drugs, plastics, synthetic rubber, and dyes. It's not exactly something I want in my drink.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) classifies benzene as a human carcinogen - a compound that promotes cancer.

Eating or drinking foods that contain high levels of benzene can cause vomiting, irritation of the stomach, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, rapid heart rate, and death.

So should we throw away our sodas and never touch them again? Well for many health reasons the answer may be yes, but NOT because of the risk of benzene content alone.

Everyone is exposed to a small amount of benzene every day. In fact, auto exhaust and industrial emissions account for about 20% of our total national exposure to benzene. We are also exposed to benzene from both active and passive second hand smoke.

So while we do want to limit the amount of benzene we are exposed to, the contribution from sodas is actually very small.

It is still a good idea to read the label of any soda you wish to purchase. Avoid or limit the consumption of products that contain both ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate.

Other factors that affect the formation of benzene are heat and light. Storing soft drinks in warm conditions speeds up the formation of benzene. Interestingly, sugar has been shown to inhibit the formation of benzene.

So while the small amount of benzene that may or may not be present in your soda is not a reason to panic, it is another reason to drink mostly water or green tea and save the soda pop for special occasions.


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