We had a rather long sleepless night last night as our 1-year old is teething. Heading on a four hour road trip, my husband had a double espresso at breakfast to ” keep him alert”. Nevertheless, about one hour into our drive, my husband told me he needed some more caffeine as he felt so sluggish. I pointed out a neat little cafe on the side of the road to which my husband mumbled,
- no, I need something “more”.
– like what? I asked…more mumbles,
- you know, just something more than coffee…
– oh, you mean like a chemical “energy” concoction? I ask.
– Well, don’t call it that, don’t be so dramatic, why can’t I just have a red bull like “everyone else”?
Well, dear husband, here is why I will not let you have a Red Bull (or any other “energy drink”) like “everyone else”.
First of all, energy drinks are laden with hefty amounts of nutrient-stripping, chemical treated, white sugar. Red bull has about 27 grams of sugar per can, which is, admittedly, less than any sodas, but in our house we don’t drink those either.
So what? You may think- I’ll just drink the “sugar free” one so I can skip the calories. If calories are your only concern, then this may sound like valid reasoning, however, don’t be fooled, the sugar free stuff is actually worse than the sugar laden versions.
The main sweetener in a sugar free red bull (and most other diet sodas) is Aspartame. There are many hundreds of studies on this artificial sweetener demonstrating its harmful effects. The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson issued the following statement about the sweetener:
“Aspartame has been found to cause cancer— leukemia, lymphoma, and other tumors—in laboratory animals, and it shouldn’t be in the food supply.”
(but that’s a whole other blog post. Let us just agree to not consume artificial sweeteners anymore).
So, now you have decided that you don’t mind the sugar in the drink, you are ok with the calorie content, the stripping of crucial nutrients from your cells, and the highly acidic forming properties of sugar. What about the other ingredients? After all it is all “natural”, right? At least that’s what the can says.
Actually, the term ‘all natural’ is complete bogus and means nothing (well, it means something, but that something is the broadest statement ever. I will post another blog about this in the future). Basically, it is a clever marketing strategy tricking you to believe that something is good for you.
Let us take a look at these ‘natural ingredients’. After ‘water’ and ‘sugar’, the next notable ingredient listed is ‘Sodium Citrate’. There are 200 milligrams of sodium in one can of Red Bull, 50 milligrams in a can of diet coke, and 40 in a can of regular coke. 200 milligrams isn’t a high enough amount to kill you, but there are large amounts of hidden salt in many of your foods and beverages. The recommended daily intake is between 1,500 – 2,400 milligrams per day, and currently Americans are consuming up to three times that amount which can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular disease. The poor quality of the salt is also important to note, because there is indeed difference between salt and salt!
The next ingredient we have is Taurine. Taurine is a colorless crystalline substance that is extracted from the bile of mammals which is found primarily in the lower intestine. So Yummy, right!? Well, lucky, or unlucky, for you the Taurine that Red Bull uses is synthetic. Lucky that you aren’t ingesting animal intestines, but unlucky that synthetic Taurine has been reported to cause high blood pressure, stroke, seizures and even heart disease. Taurine is banned in some European countries such as Switzerland. Natural ooccurring Taurine IS actually an antioxidant, but studies have yet to determine if the synthetic version is…(I highly doubt it).
After Taurine we have an ingredient called Glucuronolactone (I know, say it fast 3 times if you can). I have a few food rules. One of them is: don’t eat anything that you have no idea what it is, especially if you are not sure how to pronounce it. I personally think Glucuronolactone falls in this category. Glucuronolactone is actually naturally occuring in your body and has been reported to promote energy, but again, in Red Bull, this is a completely syntheticly made ingredient and it is likely that your body has no idea what to do with it. There are rumors floating around the internet that it was an experimental chemical that was used in the Vietnam War that was banned because it caused brain tumors, but those rumors are completely false as far as I know.
The biggest energy surge you will feel after drinking Red Bull comes from its caffeine. One can contains about 80 mg of it which is roughly the amount from two cups of coffee. There are mixed opinions about caffeine, on one hand it has been shown to promote clarity of mind, to increase both our mental and physical abilities, on the other hand, it is highly addictive, acidic forming , and highly addictive (yes, I wrote that twice, and I’m totally a victim). It also puts strain on our adrenals, and it has been directly linked to a higher risk of miscarriage during pregnancy. Basically, the less the better, if you ask me (although I love, love, love coffee).
In addition to above mentioned ingredients, there are a bunch of different “energy promoting” b vitamins added to Red Bull. Of course all synthetically made. The problem with synthetic vitamins is that they are very similar to the real vitamins- however, they are not real and thus not exact copies, so your body does not really know what to do with them. In general, they are very poorly absorbed and will be excreted from the body virtually untouched.
In short, all the synthetic ingredients in a Red Bull are more or less unrecognizable to your body’s cells, they are acidic forming (an acidic PH in the body is proven to promote tumour growth), and at the least, they put undue strain on your liver who has to work hard to try to detoxify your body from all these unknown substances. There have been at least one instance where Red Bull was consumed in large amounts and the person (young, healthy athlete) died a few hours later from liver failure. It is hard to prove what exactly caused the death, but it is still notable as the young man had no know health problems at the time.
Red Bull may give you a buzz, but that is mostly from sugar and caffeine, both which you can find elsewhere. Also, all that refined sugar is bound to give you an energy crash later.
In 2008, there was one study done in Australia that tested 30 university students aged 18-30. Dr Scott Willoughby, who led the study, said: ‘One hour after they drank Red Bull, (their blood systems) were no longer normal. One hour after drinking a Sugarfree Red Bull, the participants showed blood test results that was to be expected in “someone with cardiovascular disease”. Their blood had become “sticky” and much slower flowing. Dr Willoughby, of the Cardiovascular Research Centre at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, was ‘alarmed’ at the results and would not drink Red Bull himself.
This is albeit a small study,and no larger or similar study has been done since (to my knowledge), nevertheless, I think the results are certainly noteworthy even though Red Bull reps denied the results as significant.
How about next time you need energy you reach for some dates, grapes or a banana for sugar and amazing health benefits? Perhaps a cup of green tea to go with that (ok, a nice organic cup of coffee will do)?
For optimal health, a good rule to follow is to eat and drink food as close to their natural state as possible. Red bull is about as far from that as it could possibly be.