The title has already given it away: sulphites or sulfites (the only difference between the two is spelling!) are bad for you. But why are sulphites or sulfites harmful? Where will you find sulphites? Do you need to worry about sulfite allergy or sulfite sensitivity? Can you avoid sulphites in food?
These are all important questions, and we’re going to answer them right now. Let’s begin with a basic question.
What are sulphites or sulfites?
Sulphites are compounds that are found naturally in the body as well as in a wide variety of foods and beverages. Sulfites wear several hats: they are added to many foods and some beverages to:
- Prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi
- Extend shelf-life
- Maintain color
- They also can be found in food packaging, such as cellophane
Where will you find sulphites?
First, you should always look at the ingredient panel when buying any of the following foods to see if they are listed on the label. Since they are popular preservatives, you can expect to see sulphites in food and a variety of alcoholic beverages.
However, you also should know that sulphites can appear under many different names. Some of those names include potassium bisulphite, potassium metabisulphite, sodium bisulphite, sodium dithionite, sodium metabisulphhite, sodium sulphite, sulphur dioxide, sulphurous acid, sulphites, and sulphating agents.
Here’s a list of where you can expect to encounter sulphites or sulfites:
- Canned and frozen vegetables and fruits
- Vegetable and fruit juices
- Dried vegetables and fruits
- Fruit syrups, jellies and jams, and fillings
- Processed tomato products such as purees and pastes
- Condiments such as horseradish, ketchup, mustard, pickles, relishes
- Cornmeal, cornstarch, cereal, crackers, muesli
- Baked goods
- Granola bars
- Deli meats, sausage, hot dogs
- Dehydrated, peeled, mashed, and pre-cut potatoes (e.g., French fries)
- Bottled lime and lemon juices and concentrates
- Alcohol and non-alcoholic beer, cider, and wine
- Boxed rice and noodle mixes
- Soy products
- Gravies, sauces, soups, and dressings
- Pectin and gelatin
- Sweeteners such as syrup, molasses, and dextrose
- Over-the-counter and prescription medications
Places you will not see sulphites are on fresh fruits and vegetables (with the exception of raw grapes and sliced potatoes) or on pre-packaged meat, poultry, and fish (except tuna and crustaceans), where they are allowed.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, food manufacturers must reveal the presence of sulphites in their products based on the following guidelines:
The presence of sulfiting agents must be declared on the label if their concentration in the finished meat or poultry food product is 10 ppm or higher. However, some finished meat and poultry food products may be comprised of multiple separate components, e.g., potatoes or apple cobbler in a frozen dinner. For these products, if a separate component contains 10 ppm or more sulfiting agents, the sulfiting agents must be declared even though the total product contains less than 10 ppm of sulfiting agents. When sulfiting agents are required to be declared on a label, they must be (1) declared by their specific name or as “sulfiting agents,“and (2) listed in the ingredients statement in order of predominance or at the end of the ingredients statement with the statement, “This Product Contains Sulfiting Agents“ (or the specific name of the sulfite compound).
Five reasons sulphites are bad for you
Some people are sensitive to sulphites or have a sulfite allergy and can react in a variety of ways when they consume these ingredients or are exposed to them topically. Here are sulphite dangers you should know about.
- Sulphites may cause allergy-like symptoms, such as breathing problems, diarrhea, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, flushing, hives, trouble swallowing, upset stomach, and vomiting.
- Sulphites can trigger anaphylactic shock and asthma. They can cause severe asthmatic symptoms in people who have sulphite-sensitive asthma. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of people with asthma are also allergic to sulphites
- Sulphites can trigger headaches and migraines. Individuals who suffer from migraines are often advised to stay away from foods that contain sulfites. Three other sources to consider are sulfites in beer, sulfites in wine, and some medications. Always check the ingredients before you partake.
- Sulphites can interfere with the absorption of B vitamins
- Sulphites may be associated with chronic fatigue and muscle cramps
Although these preservatives are common in our food supply, you can take steps to avoid them as much as possible.
- Always read food ingredient lists
- If you don’t know if a product contains sulphites, contact the manufacturer
- Avoid foods that state “may contain sulphites” or “may contain traces of sulphites”
- If you eat out, call ahead to find out if they have sulphite-free foods
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
Have you ever experienced reactions to sulfites in food, sulfites in beer, or sulfites in wine? Do you regularly check labels for the presence of sulphites or sulfites? We’d like to hear your comments.
The dangers of sulfites. Sulfites Free 2017 Feb 23
US Department of Agriculture. Food ingredients of public health concern. 2017 Jul 3
Vally H et al. Clinical effects of sulphite additives. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 2009 Nov; 39(11): 1643-51