El Chris Investigates Sugar Free Red Bull

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A delicious drink, no doubt. But does Red Bull really give you a safe, healthy kick or does it just give you an unhealthy buzz that’s mostly in your head? Read on.

Last year, I was a runner. Then I got mad because I remembered that I’m not built as a runner and it was hard, so I quit. Well, a good friend of mine named David Wherry put an end to that. He knew that I quit exercising and he pushed me to begin again, so he signed me up for a local 10k race here in Minnesota, and so I did it. It was 8 degrees outside but I did it.

When I was finished with the race, the Red Bull girls were there handing out Sugar Free Red Bull. They encouraged me to take one for myself and one for my beard, so naturally, I indulged them and accepted. I drank one on the spot, and I felt…. well, I felt no different. This morning, I drank the second one and then read the ingredients. I was mystified. I could identify maybe half of the ingredients if I’m being generous, so I did a little bit of research. I defined each ingredient and listed additional sources for you to do your own research. I was surprised by what I found.

Carbonated Water: Nothing unusual here. Water is often used as a base and a binder, and I’d much rather take water over motor oil.

Citric Acid: Not a huge concern on it’s own. It’s awful for your teeth, and it adds an acidic flavor to the drink to compensate for the lack of sugar. However, when mixed with sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate , it forms benzene, a known carcinogen. Yikes.

Taurine: Again, not a huge concern. First discovered in 1827 by Austrian scientists Friedrich Tiedermann and Leopold Gmelin in ox bile. While it won’t help your alertness by itself, it’s been shown to increase the absorption of vitamins, among other things. This may help you absorb some of the B vitamins I’ll mention later. According to The Mayo Clinic, taurine is also an amino acid that helps regulate the level of water and salt in the blood, so that’s pretty neat.

Sodium Citrate: When used for flavor, sodium citrate has a salty and acidic taste. When used in an athletic context, according to Livestrong, it can help your muscles perform slightly longer, but only in activities lasting between 1 and 7 minutes. That’s not much of a window. Also, “dosages for sodium citrate commonly are 0.3 to 0.4 grams per 2.2 pounds body weight.” Given that a full can of Red Bull only contains 4% of your daily sodium, I SERIOUSLY doubt that an 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull to make a difference in your average drinker.

Magnesium carbonate:  Shown to slow bone loss in young adult males if taken as a supplement EVERY DAY. A single can of Red Bull isn’t going to do squat for bone loss. I suppose it won’t exactly HURT anything, but this needs to be taken every day to see any sort of benefit. But just for funsies, here’s a video showing how to make science and magnesium carbonate at home.

Caffeine: The meat and potatoes of Red Bull. A can of sugar free Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine, compared to 54 milligrams in a can of Mountain Dew. For those people who drink 2 cans of Diet Coke every day but claim that Red Bull makes them too jittery, the effect is likely in their head. 2 cans of Diet Coke has about the same amount of caffeine as a can of Red Bull.

Glucuronolactone: Also called DGL because of it’s insane chemical name. Naturally produced in the body by breaking down glucose, your body uses this to make connective tissue. It’s commonly sold as a joint supplement, claiming to strengthen tendons. It’s used by some bodybuilders under the guise of some “maybes” and some “may increase the health of” and other things. Read more about it at bodybuilding.com

Acesulfame K: The K stands for potassium! 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. Often used in conjunction with aspartame because it enhances and sustains the sweet taste of food and beverages. It has a similar chemical structure to saccharin, which is concerning. Also, your body doesn’t process it and it comes out in your urine unchanged, which means it makes your pee sweeter. Gross.

Aspartame: An artificial sweetener that’s been under fire for YEARS. It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar and is one of the most common artificial sweeteners out there. Aspartame is concerning for a few reasons, namely it’s construction. It’s made from 3 separate components:

  • Phenyalanine: A compound found in many fruits, vegetables, and food products. In high doses, causes neuro-toxicity.
  • Aspartic Acid: An amino acid shown to damage in the brain in higher concentrations.
  • Methyl Alcohol: A powerful toxin and known carcinogen. When methyl alcohol is consumed, your body breaks it down into two components: Formaldehyde and Formic Acid, also considered carcinogens. Formic Acid is the poison that makes a bit from a fire ant burn, and formaldehyde is the component that keeps those frogs you dissected in high school from rotting. Super neat that it’s part of a food product.

Inositol: Red Bull contains very, very small amounts of inositol, a supposed miracle chemical. According to Web MD, it can be used “used for diabetic nerve pain, panic disorder, high cholesterol, insomnia, cancer, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, promoting hair growth, (and) a skin disorder called psoriasis…” While this all sounds amazing, the amount of inositol in Red Bull is so small that you would need to drink 360 cans to get any noticeable effect.

Niacinamide: Also known as Niacin, this is a fancy way to say Vitamin B-3. Vitamin B-3 helps you increase your LDL (good cholesterol) levels and MAY help treat Atherosclerosis and Heart Disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and all sorts of other maladies. Red bull has about 140% of your daily vitamin B-3, but this does little to boost your energy. Your body generally flushes out any excess vitamin b, meaning this will just give some oomph to your urine.

Calcium Pantothenate: Also known as pantothenic acid, this B vitamin is not only found in Red Bull, it’s also found in many popular soaps and shampoos. Again, your body washes this out with your pee, so all it’s likely to do it make your toilet glow yellow.

Pridoxine HCL: Also known as vitamin B6. Red Bull puts 250% of your daily requirement of this in every can. Even so, it’s not very useful, as your body doesn’t store this, so anything more than what you usually take in is flushed out in your toilet.

Vitamin B12: For some reason, Red Bull only put 83% of this vitamin in the drink. Still, in the concentration of the drink, most of it is washed out with your urine.

Xanthan Gum: Commonly used as an emulsifier, a thickener, a saliva replacement for those with Sjogren’s Syndrome, and, in the case of Red Bull, another sweetener.

Natural and Artificial Flavors: It’s concerning that Red Bull won’t list which natural and artificial flavors are in it’s drink. If someone is drinking this to be healthy then they’re seriously misguided, but it’s hard to look up the ingredients when they’re lumped into a category.

Colors: No artificial colors are listed here, so I can only assume, but for the sake of my readers, I won’t make assumptions.


Finding out what aspartame is made of was shocking. I’m done with diet drinks and sugar-free candies. Also, Red Bull’s “wings” come from vitamins that you’ll pee out in a few hours and less caffeine than a 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew, Coke, or Diet Coke. For the price (Normally 2.99 in the gas stations and convenience stores in Minnesota) I’ll take a cup of coffee and a multivitamin and skip all the carcinogens. Formaldehyde in my drink? No thank you. I’m done with you, Red Bull.

When you’re eating or drinking something, make sure you know what ALL of the ingredients are. A good rule of thumb to follow is

If you don’t understand what an ingredient is, then you probably shouldn’t put it in your body.

What other products are YOU wondering about? I’ll be digging apart my shampoo, my deodorant, my body wash, even my toothpaste! I’m taking ideas in the comments.

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Author: El Chris

I’m full of snark that doesn’t always come out. I have a soft spot for kids and people with special needs. I’m a disability advocate by day, and a coffee roasting photographer by night. You’ll love me, but your parents will love me more.

3 thoughts on “El Chris Investigates Sugar Free Red Bull”

  1. Thank you for this! Now I actually feel better about drinking 2, 3 and sometimes even 4 of those 8.4oz cans per day of this stuff. For some reason, it just works for me. Like, really makes a difference in how I feel. Also has the effect of cheering me up. It really does! It’s the strangest thing, but nothing perks me up like a sugar free red bull. And everyone…I mean EVERYONE…loves to cluck their tongue at me and tell me how bad this stuff is for me and honestly, it was starting to weigh me down. How can something so bad make me feel so good? And now, I have read your very helpful, very thorough discussion of its ingredients, and am thrilled that there is nothing especially bad about it, OTHER THAN the aspartame, which I would use in my coffee if I chose to drink coffee instead. So, it’s not like, by giving up sfrb (sugar free red bull), it’s not like I’m going to escape the aspartame problem (because I just really prefer the taste of aspartame to sugar or splenda or any other artificial sweetener). Interesting information! Thank you for such a well-presented discussion.

  2. Hi Chris Thanks for that my friends have no idea and practically rip them out of my hands! The only thing I am afraid of is aspartame! But I wish they’d use stevia or xylitol.

  3. Thanks for the Red Bull ingredient breakdown. Good research. I found your article while myself, searching for answers as to what these strange ingredients actually are. I’m going plan B which won’t include Red Bull Total Zero and will include unsweetened iced coffee!

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