Many processed and packaged foods are loaded with food additives. These compounds are found in foods to extend their shelf life or improve their flavor and appearance. Many of these additives have been found to cause health problems. Some of these health issues can be considered quite mild while others can be very life threatening if not addressed. Sulfites are one of these such problematic food additive. The FDA estimates that one in every 100 people are allergic to sulfites.
What is a Sulfite?
A sulfite is a sulfur-based compound that is added to foods as a preservative. This chemical is the dry form of sodium dioxide gas. In the food industry there are six substances that are considered a sulfite: sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite and potassium metabisulfite. If any of these are on an ingredient label, then the food contains sulfites.
Symptoms of Sulfites Allergies
People who are allergic to sulfites can have some very significant health issues. Allergic reactions can range from minor to life threatening. Sulfite allergies have been linked to migraine headaches, heart palpitations, hives, joint pain, asthma, decreased lung function and flushing of the face.
Where are Sulfites Found?
Sulfites are located within foods that one would not normally associate with any type of additive. For example, the highest level of sulfites can be found in dried fruits, molasses, sauerkraut, wines, grape juices, bottled lemon and lime juice as well as pickled cocktail onions. These foods should be strictly avoided by people with sulfite allergies. Some sulfites can also be found in medications.
Foods can be very misleading when it comes to the fact that they may contain sulfites. People with a sulfite allergy may choose to stay away from foods that even have a small or limited amount of sulfites in them. For example, shrimp, maple syrup, many store brand muffin mixes, clam chowder and even guacamole include sulfites. Other examples of foods with lower levels of sulfites are dry soup mixes, crackers, grapes and beer. Reading the label is the best way to determine what is in the food that you are about to consume.
In regards to sulfites, wine drinkers need to take note. There are no sulfite-free wines. Clever marketing and advertising may make you think that there are actually sulfite-free wines, but that is not the case. Interestingly enough sulfites are needed to create wine. Sulfites are created in the fermentation process naturally–even organic wines have them. Some wines have lower amounts of sulfites, but they all have some amount of the compound in them.
The best advice for anyone who suspects that she may have a sulfite allergy is to do your homework. The Internet is a great place to find useful information about this matter. You should also consult with a physician. Advise the doctor that you suspect you may have a sulfite allergy. The doctor will most likely consider allergy testing to confirm a diagnosis. Once confirmed you will know exactly what foods or wines to avoid to prevent an allergic reaction. Being informed is definitely the best medicine.