In a recent blog, I mentioned how certain foods and ingredients, both natural and as additives, can trigger respiratory and skin problems. A particular subgroup of additives – sulphites – have well known connections to symptoms such as asthma, skin ailments, headaches and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), yet despite over 25 years of growing evidence on it’s unwanted effects, we continue to find sulphites in many of our foods – especially those eaten by our kids. So for today’s Friday’s Food Additive Of The Week, let’s take a look at sulphites…
What are Sulphites?
Sulphites have been around for centuries but in todays world are commonly used as preservatives in processed foods and drinks such as dried apricots, sausages, hot chips, wine and bacon. Sensitivity to sulphites can range from mild to severe, however with the associated symptoms mentioned above, it is clearly best to avoid them whenever possible. The sulphite preservatives to avoid include any of the food additive numbers from 200 to 228. For information on the range of sulphite names and numbers to look for in food label ingredients listings, click here. You can also purchase a mini ebook to download for only $2.50 to help you identify all additives in food labels by clicking here.
Hidden Sulphite Preservatives
As a very effective preservative, it’s no wonder many companies use sulphites as additives in processed foods. Unfortunately, you can’t always read labels on processed foods to avoid sulphites because quite often sulphites will not be listed on the ingredients list, despite being present. Sulphites may be present in smaller quantities than what regulations deem necessary to state on labels, but when you have processed foods with these ‘hidden’ sulphites in several ingredients, it quickly adds up. Which is why it’s always best to stick to fresh fruit and vegetables to avoid all manner of unnecessary additives. However it may be surprising for some to know that sulphites are also found in fresh foods.
Yes! A classic example of this is ‘fresh’ mince. Whilst (seemingly) appealing when bright red, mince won’t stay that way for very long. Using sulphites to preserve the colour and shelf life of mince was banned some time ago, however studies have shown some butchers ignore such laws. (Tip: Always ask your butcher if you’re concerned about preservatives in your mince or buy sulphite home testing kits if you’re particularly sensitive)
Now this is a rather covert way, but there are more blatant examples of sulphites in fresh foods. Let me give you a little example…
Whilst combing the fruit and veg section of two local well known supermarkets (read: Woolworths and IGA), I was disappointed to see bags of ‘fresh’ green grapes with big bold red print warnings on the plastic bags saying “Warning: Contains Sulphites”. Closer inspection showed these grapes were imported. Kind of stretches the meaning of the word ‘fresh fruit’ huh?
So basically, because there is a perceived ‘need’ to have fruit and vegetables available out of season, large supermarkets import them from overseas and make sure they’re sprayed with sulphites to preserve said produce so it remains edible…
Is it just me, or is it very concerning that we cannot even buy fresh fruit and veg without having to read labels?!
The Easiest Way To Avoid Sulphites
This little observation helped confirm why we try very hard to stick to organic, fresh food from markets and farmers markets. This helps to ensure we are minimising not only the pesticides, GMOs and other nasties from mass produced crops, but also to that we are getting seasonal fresh produce without the need for preservatives to help them last longer in their travels across the world and keep them ‘edible and presentable’ on the shelf.
Now don’t get me wrong… Preserving foods is a great way to ensure you can eat produce all year round and there are many natural ways of doing so. Fermenting, freezing, drying, bottling, making jams and sauces ars just a few examples. Ever seen what an organic dried apricot looks like without preservatives? It’s a dark brown colour and nowhere near the bright orange most people would recognise. Whilst it may not look so appealing, I guarantee you the flavour is outstanding and the repercussions are nonexistent!
It’s also worth noting that there are natural forms of sulphites in foods. For example, many fermented foods will contain naturally occurring sulphites – they are a natural result of the fermentation process. A classic example of this is wine. Even organic wine will contain some sulphites naturally, which is why the label should read ‘no added sulphites’ to indicate they don’t increase the amount of sulphites by adding a preservative, but there may be some naturally present due to the fermentation process. If you are particularly sensitive and really wanting to avoid sulphites in all shapes and forms, this website gives a great list of foods containing sulphites, both naturally and as additives. The Fed Up website also has some good info on sulphites if you are up for more research.
So what can you do to avoid sulphite preservatives? It all comes down to your personal life balance – what’s right for you and your family. How far are you happy to go? Fully organic and growing your own food or just additive free and steering clear of processed products? If you’re not sure, I have a great blog to help you work it out! Either way, the answer is easy…
Let’s get back to a simpler way of life, where foods are available when they’re supposed to be, and only contain what they’re meant to contain, without the risk of all manner of health problems. Because even when you may think you are eating healthy fresh foods, it’s not necessarily the case. In short, if you’re planning on eating whole foods and healthy fresh produce, be sure to still check what you are eating is not still laced with sulphites!