Sulfites are a food additive that has earned a pretty bad reputation for causing head pain and other symptoms. It’s used to prevent baked foods, condiments, dried fruit, and other foods, from changing color or turning brown. In some cases, it enhances flavors or prevents the food from breaking down. Most people who have heard of the additive are familiar with their presence in red wine or Asian cuisine. In the 1970 and ‘80s, use of sulfites as a food additive and preservative surged, which coin…
ided with an increase in consumers experiencing a reaction to the items that contain sulfites. But according to experts, the headache or body aches people feel is a sulfite sensitivity, not a true allergy. One way to tell the difference is that an allergy causes an immune-system response. If you have a bad reaction to foods containing sulfites, but it doesn’t affect your immune system, you’re likely intolerant.
Regardless of whether you're experiencing a food allergy or you're just sensitive to a food or ingredient, if it gives you a headache, it’s understandable that you want to avoid it. So to eat a sulfite-free diet, stick to a plan.
Sulfite-Free Breakfast and Snacks
Sulfites are often added to dried fruits, syrup, puree, and jam. So rather than buying these items in the store, you can make homemade versions.
To make dried fruit at home, choose fresh fruit that is ripe and doesn’t have any bruising, then wash, remove pits, and sliced to your desired thickness. Here are some options: Apricots Apples Bananas Cherries Peaches Pears
Preheat the oven to 170-degrees F. Spread the fruit slices out on a nonstick baking sheet so that they’re not overlapping. You can put more than one baking sheet in the oven at once, but be sure there is plenty of room between them for the air to circulate. This process can take anywhere from four to eight hours, depending on how much water the fruit contains. Be sure to probe and turn over the slices gently with a wooden spoon every 30 minutes or so. One dried-fruit-making expert suggests leaving the oven door slightly ajar for the duration of the drying period. And once the fruit is finished drying, allow to stand for about 12 hours. Serve with granola, mixed nuts, or carob chips or chocolate chips. You can even use homemade dried fruit as stuffing, served on plain yogurt or vanilla Greek yogurt, or on French toast, pancakes, scones, or anything else you enjoy pairing with fruit.
Lunch can be a challenge for people who have a sulfite problem or sensitivity since the compound is often used in bread made in large batches (so sliced bread, pita, tortillas, and rolls found in the bread aisle at the supermarket). But it’s not so straight forward as avoiding processed bread because natural sulfites can also be found in corn syrup, molasses, and potato flour. Caramel coloring also contains sulfites. So the safest bet for avoiding the compound in your lunch sandwiches is by making sliced bread and rolls at home. You can use a bread machine, but if you don’t have one, it’s not a deal-breaker.
You need active dry yeast, white sugar, vegetable oil, salt, and flour. Mix the water, yeast, sugar and then leave to stand about 10 minutes. Then add oil, salt, and flour gradually at about 1/2 cup at a time. Knead the mixture until smooth. In a warm spot (not the oven!), let the dough sit in a bowl covered with a damp cloth for about 60 minutes. Once it rises and doubles its size, deflate the dough and form them into rounds and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Be sure they’re not touching. And to prevent them from touching while baking, place them at least two inches apart. Now cover the dough with a damp cloth again and allow to rise. Once you place the dough in a preheated, 400-degree F oven, they’ll need up to 20 minutes to bake. Remove from oven when the top of the crust is golden brown.
So you go to the market, and you buy fresh lettuce and veggies from the produce aisle. What could go wrong? Well, that’s not really where you need to worry when it comes to avoiding sulfites. Rather, you’re more likely to encounter added sulfites if you use toppings, especially those packed in jars, like garbanzo beans, pickled peppers, and raisins. Salad dressings are also sometimes chockfull of the preserving compound. Fortunately, you don’t need to eat plain, dry salad. You can make your dressing. It can be as easy as a vinaigrette with a spritz of lime juice or lemon juice, olive oil, and a dash of sea salt, or a balsamic dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard.
Something to consider if you have a sulfite allergy or sulfite sensitivity is to make a food list of the items you like to eat and be sure to research whether they contain added sulfites or natural sulfites. If you think you're safe by eating a mostly whole food diet, unfortunately, you might still encounter lots of items that contain natural versions of the compound, like peanuts and products that contain peanuts, onions, and garlic.