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What’s in This?: Emergen-C

All 30 ingredients in this bullshit ‘cold-buster,’ explained (yep, even L-aspartic acid)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on) themselves.

This edition: Emergen-C Super Orange, which is made from 30 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Vitamin C: One packet of Emergen-C contains 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, or 1,667 percent of our daily value. But we previously learned that the human body can only absorb up to 200 milligrams per day, which means almost all of the vitamin C provided by Emergen-C is wasted.

2) Thiamin: Also known as vitamin B1, thiamin helps the body convert carbohydrates into energy, which might explain why Emergen-C claims that their products enhance energy without the caffeine crash.

3) Riboflavin: Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin does virtually the same thing as thiamin: It helps the body break down foods to produce energy.

4) Niacin: Niacin is just a fancy word for vitamin B3, and you probably already guessed that it also plays a role in converting the food we eat into energy.

5) Vitamin B6: While the above-mentioned B vitamins all come in regular doses, Emergen-C contains 10 milligrams of vitamin B6, or 500 percent of our daily value. This vitamin helps the body produce the hormones serotonin (which regulates mood) and norepinephrine (which helps with stress). That said, once again, excess vitamin B6 simply ends up in your urine.

6) Folic Acid: Also known as vitamin B9, folic acid is similar to vitamin B6 in that it helps with proper brain function and plays a role in managing mental and emotional health.

7) Vitamin B12: Emergen-C contains 25 micrograms of vitamin B12, or 417 percent of our daily value. While this vitamin helps the body do many things, it mostly supports our nervous system and blood cells.

8) Pantothenic Acid: This is a science-y phrase for vitamin B5, which is necessary for making blood cells and helps the body convert food into energy.

9) Calcium: This helps to build and protect your bones.

10) Phosphorus: Similar to calcium, phosphorus helps with the formation of bones and teeth, but it also plays an important role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats.

11) Magnesium: This helps with several bodily functions, but it most notably supports your muscles.

12) Zinc: Similar to vitamin C, zinc helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses.

13) Manganese: Much like B vitamins, manganese plays a role in converting food to energy, calcium absorption and blood sugar regulation.

14) Chromium: This can improve insulin sensitivity and help the body convert food into energy.

15) Sodium: This is just another word for salt.

16) Potassium: This functions as an electrolyte, helping the body regulate fluid balance, nerve signals and muscle contractions.

17) Fructose: This is a sugar found primarily in fruits, and one packet of Emergen-C contains six grams of sugar. While this isn’t much the American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day — it can add up, especially when you consider that Emergen-C seems to only really provide excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals that anyone with a healthy diet should already have plenty of.

18) Maltodextrin: An artificial sugar made from maltose (aka malt sugar) and dextrose (a sugar derived from starches), maltodextrin is usually used as a thickener or filler ingredient to add bulk to processed food and to increase its shelf life. (Maltodextrin itself has a shelf life of two years.)

19) Citric Acid: Citric acid is a sour flavoring agent derived from citrus, and it’s often used to keep products like Emergen-C fresh while they’re sitting on shelves.

20) Malic Acid: Malic acid occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, and proponents claim that it can promote energy production. However, science has yet to prove (or even come close to proving) that supplementing malic acid will actually give you more energy.

21) Acacia: Acacia is a large genus of shrubs, lianas and trees. In food products, it has many uses as a bulking agent, emulsifier, stabilizer, thickener, foaming agent, gelling agent, suspending agent and whipping agent.

22) Beta-Carotene: Beta-carotene is a pigment found in plants that gives yellow and orange fruits (like oranges) and vegetables (like carrots) their color.

23) Dried Orange Juice Concentrate: This provides a little color and flavor.

24) Glycine: This is an amino acid found in animals and plants, and it’s used primarily as a bulking agent.

25) L-Aspartic Acid: Similar to glycine, this is also an amino acid found in animals and plants, especially in sugar cane and sugar beets. In the case of Emergen-C, it’s probably added to help regulate the acidity and sweetness.

26) Natural Flavors: Natural flavor is quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — e.g., orange flavoring taken from real oranges.

27) Orange Oil: This is exactly what it sounds like: Oranges compressed into oil.

28) Silicon Dioxide: Silicon dioxide is an anti-caking agent that prevents clumping.

29) Tartaric Acid: This is mainly a sour flavoring agent and stabilizer.

30) Tocopherols: Tocopherols is a form of vitamin E used as a preservative.

The Takeaway

Emergen-C is basically a multivitamin containing massive amounts of vitamin C and several B vitamins. Once more for the cheap seats, these are excessive and unnecessary because a) if you already consume an even somewhat healthy diet, you already get all of these (in most cases, supplements only really help people with severe deficiencies); and b), you pee out anything beyond what your body can process anyway.

Speaking of which, Emergen-C was handed a $6.45 million lawsuit back in 2013 for deceptive marketing that suggested their product provides health benefits, including preventing colds and the flu, without scientific evidence. This lawsuit was indeed warranted, since many professionals agree that vitamin C isn’t even all that effective, especially in the ridiculous doses provided by Emergen-C.

So, if you’d rather not waste your money (and those precious six grams of sugar) on a practically useless supplement, go eat an orange and get some rest instead.