A 36-year-old Oregon man survived five days with only taco sauce packets to eat after his car became trapped in the snow. Jeremy Taylor reportedly had been driving on Feb. 24 with his dog to retrieve gas when his SUV got stuck. He decided to spend the night in the vehicle, but then found the next morning that even more snow had fallen and buried his car. It wasn’t until days later that a snowmobile operator came across the car and alerted authorities. After his rescue, Taylor wrote on Facebook, “taco bell fire sauce saves lives.” How much help would eating packets of Taco Bell Fire Sauce actually provide in this survival scenario?
Probably not very much. Humans can typically live for more than three weeks without food and three to five days without water, so it is doubtful that the sauce packets and their negligible nutritional benefits were really the key for Taylor. His car was also surrounded by snow, which he could have conceivably melted for water, thus negating the need to rely on the sauce for fluids.
Taco Bell Fire sauce is the second-hottest sauce that the fast-food chain offers, behind the Diablo sauce, with 500 Scoville Heat Units. However, spiciness is not going to be much help in terms of sustenance and may in fact induce acid reflux. According to its nutrition facts, a 1-teaspoon serving of Fire sauce contains 0 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbs, 0 grams of protein, and 45 milligrams of sodium.
The taco sauce didn’t hurt in Taylor’s case, and maybe was of marginal assistance. Its primary component is water, though it contains other ingredients that could theoretically lend some nutrition to a starving individual. The sauce’s tomato paste, onions, maltodextrin, and dextrose contribute sugar cells that the body can use for energy. Sodium—found in the sauce’s salt, jalapeño, chili pepper, garlic, yeast extract, and sodium benzoate—helps regulate blood pressure and fluid balance. And the Fire sauce’s potassium chloride may help with kidney functioning, nerve conduction, and muscle contraction.
A person would need to consume a massive amount of Fire sauce in order to reap any of these nutritional benefits. The “few taco sauce packets” in this scenario wouldn’t be enough. But in larger quantities, the sauce could cause trouble: Because it contains virtually no calories, a person would likely suffer from rapid weight loss, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, constipation, and potentially gallstones if forced to solely consume those packets for an extended length of time. The fact that Taylor was stuck in the cold may have caused his body’s metabolism to speed up in order to stay warm, which would increase the number of calories he needed. (Officials said he occasionally started the vehicle to help keep warm.) Because he was stranded in cold conditions, though, he had a lower risk of suffering from dehydration and overheating.
If you were ever to find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it would be better to stock up on packets of mayonnaise, which contains nutrient-dense oil and eggs. Or better yet, you could keep rations in your car—just in case.
Explainer thanks registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Gorin, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition; registered and certified dietitian nutritionist Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet; and Atkins VP of nutrition and education Colette Heimowitz.