Sunday, August 18, 2013

You are not Allergic to Sulfites

Have you ever experienced a headache, or another type of odd negative reaction, soon after wine consumption or the morning after? I have. This happens when I am either dehydrated or, as a an error in judgement, over consume. It doesn't happen frequently, but it does happen. Those are the two reasons I have found that most commonly lead to a feeling of physical unpleasantness. Another causal theory I have caught wind of indicates the sulfites found in wine. If someone suggests this as the cause to your wine related unpleasantness you should, in my professional opinion, tell whomever made the suggestion to stop talking. Stop talking immediately unless they happen to be your allergist or your doctor.

There is a great amount of misunderstanding regarding sulfur dioxide, or sulfites, in wine and I am not exactly positive where this idea first began. I do have inklings, rumblings, and guesses as to where it began, but I hesitate to say with certainty what event caused sulfite aversion. The myth that sulfites are deleterious is out there in the half informed cultural consciousness. One indication to a lack in understanding is 24 seconds into the video on the main page of a sulfite free brand called Our Daily Red where one of the discussions leaders begins by issuing this caveat: “I don’t condone wine drinking as something healthy to do, period.”

I don’t believe in modern medicine or anesthesia, period. My name is Dr. Dingleberry and I’ll be performing your appendectomy.

While I was employed in retail, a young lady who had recently finished reading a book titled “Skinny Bitch” approached me looking for wine without sulfites because apparently drinking wine without sulfites won’t make you fat; this at least was what she gathered from it.

I haven’t read it and would hate to misrepresent a self-help book titled “Skinny Bitch.”

In responding to her query, I made the mistake of trying to explain calorie intake versus calorie output as a way to avoid becoming overweight. She quickly lost interest and decided to buy flavored Bacardi instead - I doubt she bought it for its ayurvedic qualities. If you are also interested in becoming a Skinny Bitch, I recommend following the advice on their website. And I quote, “Stop being a moron and start getting skinny.”

What are sulfites you might wonder by this point? Sulfur dioxide is an anti oxidant and disinfectant used for sanitation of facilities and preservation of wine for storage and shipping. Before its complete properties were fully understood sulfur wicks were burnt and used to keep mold from growing inside of soon to be filled wine barrels. The important word above is preservation. Wholesale representatives for companies that distribute two of the larger no-sulfite-added wines said the winery guarantee was three months to two years without sulfites. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had used sulfites and also happened to be anywhere from two to twenty years old.

Sulfite use is not restricted to fermented beverage, either. Sulfites can be found, often in greater quantity than found in wine, in the following products:


The following foods and drugs MAY contain sulfites, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Remember to check the product label.

Food Category
Type of Food
Alcoholic Beverages
Beer, cocktail mixes, wine, and wine coolers
Baked Goods
Cookies, crackers, mixes with dried fruits or vegetables, pie crust, pizza crust, quiche crust, and flour tortillas
Beverage Bases
Dried citrus fruit beverage mixes
Condiments and Relishes
Horseradish, onion and pickle relishes, pickles, olives, salad dressing mixes, and wine vinegar
Confections and Frostings
Brown, raw, powdered or white sugar derived from sugar beets
Modified Dairy Products
Filled milk (a specially prepared skim milk in which vegetable oils, rather than animal fats, are added to increase its fat content)
Antiemetics (taken to prevent nausea), cardiovascular drugs, antibiotics, tranquilizers, intravenous muscle relaxants, analgesics (painkillers), anesthetics, steroids and nebulized bronchodilator solutions (used for treatment of asthma)
Fish and Shellfish
Canned clams; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried shrimp; frozen lobster; scallops; dried cod
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Sulfite use banned (except for fresh potatoes)
Gelatins, Puddings, and Fillings
Fruit fillings, flavored and unflavored gelatin, and pectin jelling agents
Grain Products and Pastas
Cornstarch, modified food starch, spinach pasta, gravies, hominy, breadings, batters, noodle/rice mixes
Jams and Jellies
Jams and jellies
Nuts and Nut Products
Shredded coconut
Plant Protein Products
Canned, bottled, or frozen fruit juices (including lemon, lime, grape, and apple); dried fruit; canned, bottled, or frozen dietetic fruit or fruit juices; maraschino cherries and glazed fruit
Processed Vegetables
Vegetable juice, canned vegetables (including potatoes), pickled vegetables (including sauerkraut), dried vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, frozen potatoes, potato salad
Snack Foods
Dried fruit snacks, trail mixes, filled crackers
Soups and Soup Mixes
Canned seafood soups, dried soup mixes
Sweet Sauces, Toppings
Corn syrup, maple syrup, fruit toppings, and high-fructose syrups such as corn syrup and pancake syrup
Instant tea, liquid tea concentrates

 That helpful list came from the FDA via a study at the University of Florida where they found that sulfite allergies afflict a rough number of the US population:

Although literature lists a range of figures as to what percent of the population is affected, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that one out of a hundred people is sulfite-sensitive, and of that group 5% have asthma. Another source states that 5% of asthmatics are sulfite sensitive, compared to only 1% of the nonasthmatic population (Knodel, 1997), while another source estimates that up to 500,000 (or less than .05% of the population) sulfite-sensitive individuals live in the United States (Lester, 1995).”

The FDA estimates that 1 out of 100 people is sulfite sensitive. 1% of the population. It’s not a very large percent.

So let’s run down a quick checklist:

1. Have you had an adverse reaction to the items in the above table: 
Yes____ No____
2. Have you had a sulfite allergy tested by an allergist: Yes____ No____

If you answered yes to these questions you are allergic to sulfites. If you answered no to these questions, you are probably not allergic to sulfites. There are, however, a number of other contributing chemical factors to wine that come from grapes, vines, yeast, bugs, critters, soil, bacteria, and etc., that could in theory cause some sort of negative reaction. And let us not forget hydration and over consumption.

Chances are, though, that it is not the sulfites.

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