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Sulfites: the Hidden Allergy

There are allergies hiding in your packaged and preserved food products! They are called sulfites! Learn more to avoid unexplained headaches, bloating and swelling!

Do you experience headaches, bloating, and swelling after eating packaged and preserved products? If so, there is a hidden category of food allergies that you may not realize you’re allergic to. They’re called sulfites!

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are regulated food additives that are used as preservatives to maintain food color and prolong shelf-life, prevent the growth of micro-organisms, and to maintain the potency of certain medications. Sulfites are used to bleach food starches (e.g. potato) and are also used in the production of some food packaging materials (e.g. cellophane).

What kinds of reactions can you have to Sulfites?

Those who have asthma are most at risk of sulfite sensitivity and other forms of sulfite reactions. Some of the more common symptoms of a sulfite reaction are migraines and asthma attacks.

The most severe form of an allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. Symptoms can include breathing difficulties, a drop in blood pressure, or shock, which may result in loss of consciousness and even death.

A person experiencing an allergic reaction may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Flushed face, hives or a rash, red and itchy skin
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat, and tongue
  • Trouble breathing, speaking, or swallowing
  • Anxiety, distress, faintness, paleness, sense of doom, weakness
  • Cramps, diarrhea, vomiting
  • A drop in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, loss of consciousness

What common foods are Sulfites found in?

It is amazing how many foods consumed in your day-to-day life contain sulfites. You can especially tell if a product has been exposed to sulfites if it still has its bright color or a long shelf life. For instance, most fruits brown naturally when they're exposed to air, so natural dried fruits are usually brown in color. However, a product with sulfites is bright in color (i.e. apricots).

Other possible sources:

  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer or cider
  • Wines – sulfites occur naturally during fermentation even in organic wines
  • Prescriptive medication
  • Baked goods such as breads, cookies, pastries, and waffles
  • Bottled lemon and lime juice or concentrate
  • Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables: e.g., mushrooms, sliced apples, olives, peas, peppers, pickles, pickled onions, and tomatoes
  • Cereal, cornmeal, cornstarch, crackers, and muesli
  • Condiments: e.g., coleslaw, horseradish, ketchup, mustard, pickles, relish, sauerkraut
  • Deli meat, hot dogs, and sausages
  • Dressings, gravies, guacamole, sauces, soups, soup mixes
  • Dried fruits or vegetables: e.g., apples, apricots, coconut, mincemeat, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, raisins, sun dried tomatoes
  • Dried herbs, spices, and tea
  • Fish, including crustaceans and shellfish: e.g., shrimp (fresh or frozen)
  • Fruit filling, fruit syrup, gelatin, jams, jellies, marmalade, molasses, and pectin
  • Fruit or vegetable juices: e.g., coconut, grape, sparkling grape, and white grape
  • fresh grapes
  • Glazed or glacéed fruits: e.g., apples, grapes, and maraschino cherries
  • Potatoes: e.g., frozen French fries, dehydrated, mashed, peeled, or pre-cut
  • Snack foods: e.g., candy, chocolate or fruit bars, tortilla or potato chips, soft drinks, and trail mix
  • Soy products
  • Starches: e.g., corn, potato, sugar beet; noodles, and rice mixes
  • Sugar syrups: e.g., glucose, glucose solids, and syrup dextrose
  • Vinegar, wine vinegar

How can you avoid sulfites!

Avoid food and products that do not have an ingredient list and read labels every time you shop. Manufacturers may occasionally change their recipes or use different ingredients for varieties of the same brand. Refer to the following list before shopping:

Other names for sulfites:

  • Potassium bisulphite or metabisulphite
  • Sodium bisulphite, dithionite, metabisulphite, or sulphite
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Sulphiting agents
  • Sulphurous acid

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies or sulfite sensitivity. The only option is complete avoidance of the specific allergen. In this case, it means eating a cleaner and more whole-food based diet, which can only benefit your health and your allergic reaction!

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