Soda Ingredient Fans Flames of Controversy | Seventh Generation
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Soda Ingredient Fans Flames of Controversy

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7 comments
Author: the Inkslinger

Soda pop isn't health food. On that, I think we can all agree. But in some popular brands the issue goes beyond the many multiple teaspoons of sugar the typical serving contains to a little-known ingredient that's infinitely more surprising and perhaps more unhealthy still.

That ingredient is a flame retardant call brominated vegetable oil (BVO). You read that right. Some 10% of sodas in the U.S. contain a flame retardant, and it's not because drink companies sought to create a multipurpose product that can extinguish both raging thirsts and raging fires, but because BVO also makes a great fruit-flavored drink emulsifier, an ingredient that helps flavoring agents stay suspended in the formula.

BVO, which is made by combining soy or corn oil with bromine, is limited by the FDA to 15 parts per million in soft drinks and sport beverages. That's not much. The problem is that a lot of people these days are chugging large amounts of soda on a regular basis, and if you drink enough BVO, unhealthy effects are going to start showing up.

For their part, drink makers say the ingredient is safe, and they're probably right, at least as far as occasional soda drinkers are concerned. But for habitual pop drinkers things are not so clear cut, and that's led to calls for BVO to be banned in soft drinks as it is in Europe and Japan where far less controversial natural emulsifiers are used.

BVO opponents point out that the current limits were set in the 1970s and are based on fairly ancient studies that should be updated using new, more advanced techniques that could uncover harmful effects the earlier research missed. They also point to evidence that bromine accumulates in people over time and has been found to trigger problems in animals. There are also worries that BVO could behave like the brominated flame retardants that some studies have linked to unpleasant health effects in people.

The bottom line is there are a few too many question marks surrounding BVO's use in soft drinks and sports beverages, and some signs that it may not be such a great idea. Fortunately, if a drink contains BVO, it has to say so in its ingredients list. A quick glance will tell us which brands have it and which brands don't.

I've got nothing against sodas. In fact, I find few things more refreshing than a glass of iced cola on a hot afternoon. And I don't deny my daughter the occasional root beer, which she loves. But these are special treats we enjoy once in a very great while, not hour after hour every day of the year. So I'm not worried about BVO in my own case, and probably won't even bother checking for it. But it's a different situation for others. Lots of people drink buckets of soda on a regular basis. Video gamers, for example, have a culture in which fruit-flavored sodas play a significant role, and if I were a part of it or engaged in any kind of soda “binge drinking,” I'd be thinking long and hard about BVO (not to mention diabetes, but that's another blog post).

The BVO dilemma is emblematic of a larger truth: far too many processed foods and drinks that should be once-in-a-blue-moon pleasures (and would be pretty harmless if they were) have become everyday staples. The typical American diet is no longer punctuated by the occasional vice, it's becoming composed of them. BVO or not, we need to get back to basics, fill the grocery cart with whole foods instead of synthetic simulacrum, and start eating like it matters. Because whenever we don't, we can see that it does.

photo: Scooter the Photographer

7
Comments

Carol from Colorado picture
Carol from Colorado
04/07/12
Come on now! Soda harder to quit than smoking ?? That's ridiculous. I've quit both and smoking was by far the hardest thing I've ever done in life, aside from watching my daughter struggling for air in the ER. She's asthmatic. I stopped the smoking over 35 years ago for her. I'm so grateful I was able to do it. All of you 'addicted' to soda... you're addicted to simple carbohydrates. Even if you drink 'diet' soda, your body and brain are craving that sugar-high. It takes three to four tough days to cut-out all the 'white stuff' AND starches (yes, even the whole grains). Go strictly lean protein and all the fresh, non-starchy, veggies you want---even a little oil is okay. After three days of restriction, your cravings will have miraculously gone away. Stick with it and you'll lose some weight as well.
rlane962 picture
rlane962
04/06/12
As an occasional soda drinker, I find this article very informative and eye opening. I will be sure to look for BVO from now on. And on another note, I usually don't read the comments to any article due to the fact that some ignorant, close minded comment infuriates me, just like this time. Why would anyone be offended by the fact that someone else is happy and proud to be a housewife?
BettB picture
BettB
04/05/12
Oh dear God someone is still invoking -=Housewives=- as the "average" familial unit that goes to the store? That antique stereotype is as toxic as the crap in the soda. As for the actual topic of this conversation, I basically don't drink soda. I find it hard to believe that quitting soda is harder than quitting smoking, which is actually addictive, but if it is, they better start looking a little harder at the stuff. What on earth could make it so hard to stop drinking the stuff? I do know a diabetic with multiple sclerosis who drinks diet soda like it's going out of style, and won't stop, which also points to the possibility that it's addictive. Tell me again why there is a war on drugs which does not include stuff like aspartame?
2bigdogs picture
2bigdogs
04/05/12
The BVO is easy to find, just read the label. It states clearly: Brominated Vegetable Oil right on there with the phospohrous, aspartame, and other good for ya stuff~! jk. The soda I drink has it and I've often wondered what it is, why it's in there, and what the bad things are it can do to me because even though I didn't know what it was, I was pretty sure it wasn't part of a food group! Just read the labels, I am the person that he is mentioning in his blog, I drink probably 4 cans of diet pop a day.....way too much. I've tried cutting back and quitting with little success. Don't start, and don't let your kids start. It was far easier for me to quit smoking 20+ years ago. Thanks for the info on the BVO!
2bigdogs picture
2bigdogs
04/05/12
The BVO is easy to find, just read the label. It states clearly: Brominated Vegetable Oil right on there with the phospohrous, aspartame, and other good for ya stuff~! jk. The soda I drink has it and I've often wondered what it is, why it's in there, and what the bad things are it can do to me because even though I didn't know what it was, I was pretty sure it wasn't part of a food group! Just read the labels, I am the person that he is mentioning in his blog, I drink probably 4 cans of diet pop a day.....way too much. I've tried cutting back and quitting with little success. Don't start, and don't let your kids start. It was far easier for me to quit smoking 20+ years ago. Thanks for the info on the BVO!
mwdean picture
mwdean
04/05/12
Great article, now arm us with some information we can apply... I am drinking a soda right now... Does it have it? I don't know... Don't raise the flag if you can't supply all facts or point us to somewhere that does have them.
SisterCrow picture
SisterCrow
04/05/12
What are the far less controversial natural emulsifiers that are used in Europe and Japan? Who are the manufacturers of products in the US that use BVO? While the article was informative, it really doesn't help the average housewife headed to the grocery store.