Sulphites in red wine – some friends of mine (4cousins) went to school in Spain and recently did a reminiscence tour of their school and Paris. While in Madrid they had lunch and had sangria – one of them fainted and had to be taken to hospital. She was asked how much she had taken and were quite questioning when she answered “solo una copita” which was the truth. So she found out it is the sulfite in cheap wine that she has to avoid. I also now check if there are sulfites.
From a Tap Blog reader
Sulfites are present in many foods such as ready meals, pizza, wine and beer. Whilst it acts as a preservative, it also has health implications for 10 percent of all consumers. Many have minor irritations, however asthmatics and those who are sensitive to the irritant effect of sulfites can have severe reactions.
Sulfites are a group of chemical agents added to food, beer and wine that prevent bacterial growth. The term “sulfites” includes sulfur dioxide and the salts formed from sulfurous acid, such as sodium sulfite or potassium metabisulfite. In the mass production of wine it is also used to prevent browning of white wines and to quickly end fermentation. Other foods high in sulfite are dried fruits, pizza, oven chips, jam, seafood products and processed meats. One in 10 people will have some reaction to sulfites with reactions ranging from rashes and itching to restricted breathing, asthmatic attacks, hives and anaphylactic shock.
The best test for sensitivity to sulfites is a “challenge” test in which the patient is taken to hospital and sprayed with sulfur dioxide or given a sulfite solution. Their reaction is then carefully monitored as the reaction can be severe, and the patient may need resuscitation. Another way to test is to eat dried apricots, as they have high levels of sulfur dioxide, if there is a reaction, there is a good chance of sensitivity. However if there is a belief that the patient is highly sensitive to sulfites, they should avoid any high sulfite foods unless under medical supervision. People with a sensitivity to sulfites should also avoid general anesthetic, as the adrenaline shots used if things go wrong contain sulfite preservatives.
Sulfite sensitivity often mistaken for hay fever
Many people do not know that they may be sensitive to sulfites as they know little about them. Doctors are often unaware of the dangers of sulfites, some even deny the existence of sensitivity to this commonly used ingredient. Often antihistamines will be prescribed for the symptoms that are often similar to hay fever, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes and a wheezing cough.
Whilst the law in the UK and US states that all foods and drinks containing sulfite concentrations above 10 milligrams per liter or Kg must be labeled as containing sulfites, many contain much higher levels. Poor quality, mass-produced wines have much higher concentrations of sulfites than more expensive organic wines.
Whilst sulfites preserve the food by preventing bacterial growth, they also cause the food to be less nutritionally useful. Sulfites destroy vitamin B1, thiamine, present in large amounts in meat, dairy and cereal products. The bleaching of flour using sulfur dioxide reduces vitamin E content and beneficial bacteria present in some dairy products are killed by the presence of sulfites.
The FDA (US) and DEFRA (UK) both state that sulfites are safe but should be avoided by asthmatics and those with liver or kidney dysfunction.
The use of sulfites and sulfur dioxide in particular has been used since the roman times. These chemicals have passed into the modern diet without the stringent testing that applies to modern day food additives as they are seen as “safe” because they have been used for so long. This is despite the large numbers of people who are adversely affected.
References for this article include:
“E for Additives” by Maurice Hanssen with Jill Marsden, second addition 1988