Not All Dried Fruits are Equal: A Look at Sulfites & Health

Want to know more about sulfites and how they relate to your health? The chemical compound sulfur dioxide may not sound very appetizing, but chances are, you’ve eaten sulfites if you've eaten dried fruits (but not our dried fruits – all of our fruit is sulfite-free, as all of our bars contain only 2 ingredients: fruit + fruit, that’s it!).

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are essentially inorganic salts that many food and beverage producers use to preserve their food and to prolong their shelf life. In addition, sulfites help to prevent the growth of bacteria, and they can even soften and bleach foods. Some sulfur-based compounds also occur naturally in fermented beverages and wines.

What foods contain sulfites?

Certain food groups tend to receive more sulfites than others. Some foods that usually contain very high levels of sulfites are dried fruits, bottled lemon and lime juices, grape juices, and wine (the suspected culprit for red wine causing migraines = sulfites). Pickled foods, frozen potatoes, fresh shrimp, guacamole, and various cheeses typically contain moderate to high levels of sulfites, while frozen pizza, frozen pie dough, crackers, cookies, and dry soup mixes do have sulfites but in very low levels.

Are sulfites harmful?

In its chemical compound form, Sulfur Dioxide is actually poisonous, but in food it is not; the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes sulfites as “Generally recognized as safe,” but sulfites tend to have different effects on everyone, and many people are often sensitive to sulfites. One percent of the population has a severe sensitivity or actual diagnosed allergy to sulfites, which could cause potentially fatal side effects when consumed. Sulfites are especially harmful for those with asthma as 5 to 10% of people with asthma react poorly to sulfites.

What are the side effects of sulfites?

As previously mentioned, everybody responds differently to sulfites. Some people can consume sulfites and experience no negative side effects. For those with sulfite sensitivities, sulfites are likely to cause migraines, nasal-congestion, and breathing difficulties. Those with asthma, and those with a sulfite allergy are likely to experience anaphylactic shock and develop hives or swelling and should therefore avoid all sulfites.

Does the FDA require the labeling of sulfites?

In the past, restaurants and grocery stores added sulfites to their foods. Following some negative incidents, in 1986 the FDA created stricter laws surrounding the labeling of sulfites. Specifically, any foods that contain more than 10 parts per million concentration of sulfites must be labeled as such. Due to these stricter regulations, it has been easier to identify foods that contain sulfites, but it’s still important to remember that even products that don’t list sulfites on the label may still contain sulfites.

Should I avoid sulfites?

As with most nutrition topics, there is still an ongoing debate regarding sulfites and their potential health effects. Until definitive answers are reached by industry experts, we always recommend opting for products with ingredients that you can fully trust and that make your body feel good. Our favorite? That’s it, of course!

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