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What Are Sulfites? And Why They're in Your Food

Here's what could be causing the ugly side effects of drinking wine.

If you tend to experience ugly side effects after drinking wine, we may know what's causing such an inconvenient and unpleasant reaction. It turns out the culprit may be something called sulfites. What are sulfites?

"Sulfites are added to foods and drinks to slow them from becoming discolored or losing their flavor," says Nutrition expert Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC.

Although sulfites can apparently benefit the items that end up on our dinner table, Manaker notes that "while many people can include sulfites in their diet with no negative side effects, others can really feel some disruptive symptoms" due to sulfites. Research published by the Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench journal points out that sulfites can lead to a number of "adverse reactions." Indeed, if you happen to be sensitive to sulfites, then you can find yourself dealing with dermatitis, urticaria, flushing, hypotension, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, as well as even more serious issues such as life-threatening anaphylactic and asthmatic reactions.

red and white wine

How can you tell if sulfites are causing your problems? "People can tell if they are sensitive to sulfites rather quickly. If they notice they are experiencing these side effects after drinking wine, dried fruit that contains sulfites, certain sodas, and other sulfite-containing foods," Manaker says. "Health care providers can confirm sulfite sensitivity by a challenge—sulfite is given to a person in increasing concentrations until a reaction is observed."

When it comes to avoiding sulfites, Manaker notes that you can be "mindful" of what you're putting in your body. "Many red wines contain lower levels of sulfites compared to other wine varieties. People should also watch out for surprising sulfite sources, like certain supplements. Opting for those that indicate that they are sulfite-free can be their best bet." Beyond that, Manaker adds that dried fruits, sauerkraut, maraschino cherries, and white grape juice are examples of foods and drinks that should be avoided when trying to stay away from sulfites.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée