Should I be worried that my favorite soda contains brominated vegetable oil? What is it?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Brominated vegetable oil — or BVO for short — is a food additive sometimes used to keep citrus flavoring from separating out in sodas and sports drinks, such as Fanta, Mountain Dew and Gatorade. Controversy has long surrounded the use of BVO. It's banned as a food additive in Europe and Japan but not in the U.S.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally categorized BVO as "generally recognized as safe," the agency later reversed that decision. Currently, under certain conditions and on an interim basis pending more research, the FDA allows BVO to be used as a food additive.

Health concerns about BVO stem from the fact that it contains bromine, the element found in brominated flame retardants. Only a few studies have looked at possible safety issues, but it appears that bromine builds up in the body. There also have been a few reports of people experiencing memory loss and skin and nerve problems after drinking excessive amounts (more than 2 liters a day) of soda containing BVO. Some beverage manufacturers are even considering taking BVO out of their products.

So what should you do? Don't drink large amounts of BVO-containing beverages. Better yet, take it one step further and cut back on all sugary drinks. Opt instead for healthier choices, such as water, low-fat milk and an occasional glass of 100-percent fruit juice.

Apr. 05, 2013