Sulfites are commonly added to foods as a preservative that inhibits oxidative discoloration (browning) and flavor changes. The problem is that many people are sensitive to sulfites and can suffer migraines, weakness, nausea, digestive disturbances, neurologic issues or other uncomfortable symptoms as long as four days after exposure.
You’ll find sulfites under names like “sodium metabisulfite” in prepared foods including beer, wine, baked goods, some canned foods, prepared or cured meats (hot dogs, bacon, etc.), fruit drinks and dried fruits.
Although the FDA has directed restaurants and other food retailers to declare if the foods they are serving have been treated with sulfites, you cannot depend on their forthcomingness. For instance, you should assume sulfites have been added to a container of cut or dried fruit at the grocery store unless it is specifically labeled “sulfite-free,”
You can find sulfite-free wine and beer if you look hard enough, and a good sulfite-free brand for dried fruits and vegetables is the Just Tomatoes series. Whole Foods Market says there are no sodium metabisulfites added to its 365 brand of dried fruits.
How can you figure out if sulfites are the cause of your problem? You can try eliminating all sulfite-containing foods and drinks for at least two weeks and see if your symptoms clear up. This can be a difficult strategy if sulfites turn out to be only one of many substances that are causing your body to react. A faster and easier way to learn what you are sensitive to is to take the MRT blood test that looks for hypersensitivity reactions to 150 foods and chemicals.
While sulfites are toxic to many people, sulfates may be more tolerable. Sulfite is converted to sulfate by sulfiteoxidase, a molybdenum dependent enzyme. If you just can’t seem to avoid sulfites, eating foods high in molybdenum may help reduce sulfite sensitivity. Significant sources of molybdenum include pork, lamb, beef liver, green beans, eggs, sunflower seeds, wheat flour, lentils, cucumbers and cereal grain.
Sulfites can also interfere with thiamine absorption. Thiamine deficiency can result in neurologic issues like Beriberi, Korsakoff’s syndrome, or optic neuropathy. People who consume a lot of foods or drinks containing sulfites might consider supplementing with thiamine (Vitamine B1), or simply adding more mushrooms into their diets.
If you are sensitive to sulfites, you may also be sensitive to sulfa drugs, soaps, and shampoos, so watch for the first sign of adverse reactions and cease use immediately upon swelling, rash, hives, burning, wheezing, etc. If there are signs of anaphalaxis, call 911 and seek help immediately.