Is Your Favorite Breakfast Food Giving You Cancer?

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maple syrupIllustrated by Anna Sudit; Photo: Food and Drink/REX USA.
Ever have a stack of Belgian waffles where there’s enough syrup to fill each sinfully delicious, golden-brown pocket right up to the brim? To the point where cutting into the waffle is like breaking 25 miniature, sugar-filled levees? Well, unfortunately, new research suggests we have more than sugar to worry about when it comes to drenching pancakes and waffles with all that gooey sweetness.

After testing four brands of syrup containing caramel color (using pure maple syrup as a control), a new Consumer Reports study found potentially dangerous levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI or 4-Mel) — a compound formed by reacting sugars with ammonia and/or sulfites that causes cancer in mice. The color additive is used in many foods and beverages including soy sauce, desserts, breads, and soda. While more rigorous, long-term research is necessary before cutting off your dear Aunt Jemima et al, it's clear consumers should be wary of downing the artificial stuff in excess.

Last year, a report raised eyebrows over the dangerous levels of the chemically modified coloring agent found in sodas like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Though not necessarily the best argument, the researchers did say the amount of 4-Mel in syrup poses less of a concern since people drink soda more regularly. It’s important we point out that two weekly servings of 4-Mel containing syrup have a negligible cancer risk in this specific study (about one in one million). But, daily consumption of ¼ cup of Hungry Jack Original pancake syrup (which showed the highest levels of 4-Mel) poses a higher lifetime risk. But, if you’re willing to drop a few extra bucks on the real stuff, the good news is pure maple syrup (made by boiling the sap collected from maple trees) actually has some health benefits. The plant-based syrup has a lower glycemic index than sugar, meaning it’s more likely to keep blood sugar levels from spiking. And, research suggests the phytochemicals in maple syrup make it a viable antioxidant.

Though this particular study was too small to conclusively name the worst pancake-syrup offender on the shelves, Consumer Reports hopes it will urge the Food and Drug Administration to set standards for 4-Mel in foods so breakfast lovers can avoid it, should they choose. Sure, real maple syrup is notably pricier than the faux stuff, but dousing pancakes in Mrs. Butterworth’s may come at a more substantial cost. (The Huffington Post Canada)