What's Inside a Can of Red Bull?

The bull is just part of the logo, not the drink.
The bull is just part of the logo, not the drink. / Jan Kopřiva, Unsplash

The fact that Red Bull can flood you with energy much like spinach does for Popeye—not to mention its vaguely metallic taste—might make you think it’s filled with questionable chemicals (or worse). While it’s definitely less nutritious than Popeye’s signature snack, the ingredients aren’t as mysterious as they may seem.

First, there’s carbonated water, which is just regular water pumped with carbon dioxide to make it fizzy. The sweetness primarily comes from two types of added sugar: sucrose, which is the same kind you’d put in your sugar bowl; and glucose, which is usually made from corn starch. According to MEL Magazine, there are about 27 grams of sugar in an 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull, which is roughly the same amount of sugar you'd find in one regular-sized Snickers bar. (So if you’re going to guzzle a Red Bull before your next block of Zoom meetings, you might want to skip dessert that night.)

Then, there are several B vitamins meant to boost your energy. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 especially valued for its anti-inflammatory properties; and calcium pantothenate, or the calcium salt found in vitamin B5, helps metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Pyridoxine hydrochloride, found in vitamin B6, helps regulate blood glucose levels and mood-boosting neurotransmitters; and vitamin B12 helps produce red blood cells, which transport oxygen through your body.

Citric acid gives Red Bull its slightly sour kick and also acts as a preservative, while magnesium carbonate helps neutralize some of that acidity. Sodium bicarbonate—which we know as baking soda—may improve performance during exercise, though more research is needed to support that theory. Taurine is the ingredient responsible for the long-running rumor that Red Bull contains some unsavory substance from a bull (such as semen or urine), which the company has denied. In truth, taurine is just an amino acid already found in the human body. Like baking soda, some people believe taurine can positively impact one's athletic performance, but more research is needed.

The FDA doesn’t require companies to disclose flavors unless they include common allergens, so the “natural and artificial flavors” in Red Bull remain a trade secret; and “colors” likely refers to food dyes. And lastly, there’s caffeine. An 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull boasts 80 milligrams of caffeine, which is a little less than an average cup of coffee.

In summary, Red Bull isn’t concealing much that we don’t already consume at least semi-regularly (or produce in our bodies). That said, you could probably achieve the same energy boost with a balanced diet, a multivitamin, and cup of joe—and that way, you wouldn’t have to skip dessert.

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