What Are Sulphites? Are they bad for me? Posted on November 19, 2018

What Are Sulphites? An Apple A Day

WHAT ARE SULPHITES? 

Sulphites are a class of preservatives, used to slow the browning of foods, help food retain it’s colour, smell and flavour as well as prevent bacterial growth. To give this some context, sulphites are used to keep those dried apricots orange, when in fact they should be brown and mouldy after sitting on the shelf for up to 18 months.

Whilst some may argue that sulphites occur naturally in fermented products such as wine and vinegar, they have also “unnaturally”  been added to a number of processed foods i.e. sausages, processed deli meats, cordials, jams, pickled vegetables, as well as dried fruits and veg (like those apricots, apples and pears) to extend their shelf life.

ARE SULPHITES BAD FOR ME?

Most of us have no unwanted reaction to sulphites but those who are sensitive may suffer symptoms such as dermatitis, urticaria (itchy skin), flushing, hypotension (low blood pressure), headaches and/or migraines, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, wheezing and difficulty breathing and more (1). Whilst some might argue that if you don’t have a reaction, there’s no need to avoid sulphites, I work under the philosophy that fresh is best and as such, look to minimise my exposure to any additives or preservatives wherever I can.

For those of you looking to boost your nutrient intake, the addition of sulphites to certain foods has  been linked to the degradation of vitamins B1, B12 and Folate (2). As a result, they are altering the nutrient component of these foods and there is less bioavailable nutrients for us.

WHAT FOODS CONTAIN SULPHITES?

There are a number of foods that commonly contain sulphites, these include but are not limited to:

  • Sausages
  • Chips (unless they are homemade)
  • Sliced breads, crumpets and many baked goods
  • Ready made pizzas
  • Frozen seafood
  • Fresh Prawns (fresh ones can also contain sulphites so make sure you ask!)
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Pickled vegetables, vinegars, store-bought salad dressings, mayonnaise
  • Dried fruits and candied fruits (i.e. glazed cherries)
  • Desiccated coconut
  • Coconut milk (can contain sulphites, so please check the label)
  • Dried mushrooms, onion, garlic
  • Powdered ginger
  • Stock cubes (unless all ingredients are organic)
  • Jams
  • Gelatine (in cakes, sweets, desserts etc)
  • Glucose and other syrups, molasses (in desserts, ice creams etc)
  • Fruit drinks, soft drinks e.g. colas, lemonade or tonics
  • Beer/lager, cider and wine

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) added sulphites must be declared in the ingredients list on the label of a packaged food when present in foods in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more. If the food is unpackaged (e.g. dried apricots sold in bulk bins, sausages in a butchers shop), the presence of sulphites must be declared on or in connection with the display of the food, if not, you as the purchaser can request this information and the sales team will have to provide it.

What you’re looking for is the inclusion of any preservatives listed under the numbers ranging from 220-228:

  • 220 Sulphur dioxide
  • 221 Sodium sulphite
  • 222 Sodium bisulphite
  • 223 Sodium metabisulphite
  • 224 Potassium metabisulphite
  • 225 Potassium sulphite
  • 228 Potassium bisulphite

HOW CAN I AVOID SULPHITES?

  • FRESH IS ALWAYS BEST!
  • Talk to your local butcher/fish monger about sulphite free alternatives
  • Swap vinegars with fresh lemon juice and olive oil as salad dressings
  • Look for organic dried fruits with no sulphites added i.e. sulphite free apricots
  • Avoid prepackaged juices and substitute in a freshly made juice where possible

Do you avoid sulphites? What are your sulphite free alternatives? I’d love to know more! Pop your suggestions in the comments below!


Written by Alyse Co-cliff

Alyse Co-cliff

Alyse is a Qualified Nutritionist (BHSc Nut Med), clinician, writer, speaker and all round real food advocate. Consults are available both online and in person at her Burleigh Heads clinic.



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