Preservatives – sulphites


This is one of a series of articles on food written by David Murray (see the full list on the right hand sidebar).

common-preservatives-sulphitesThis article focuses on a group of preservatives known as Sulphites. You can identify them on packaging by their code numbers, which range from 220 to 228.

The first people to use them were the Greeks and Romans, and they used them to instill their wines with a previously unattainable longevity.

But come the 1880’s, and the beginnings of globalisation. Australia and some South American countries move into the meat exports trade. That’s right, it’s our fault. Beef was treated with sulphites in order to last the long, long journey from our shores to those of the UK.

Thus began our preservative obsession.

Nowadays sulphites are abundant in many processed meats, fruits and vegetables. So if you’re unsure, it’s best to avoid all processed foods. This includes sausages and other processed meats (like bacon and ham), dried apricots, fruit drinks, cordials, jams, biscuits, ice-cream, yoghurt, hot chips, lollies, etc.

Interestingly, there has been a ban on sulphites in meat in the USA for more than 50 years. This is because sulphites are known to destroy thiamine (or Vitamin B1), and meat is a good source of it. Thiamine can’t be produced in the body so including enough of it in your diet is vital. Thiamine deficiency can cause severe neurological damage and memory loss. And if you’re eating a food that actively destroys the nutrients your body needs, what’s the point of eating the food?

FYI there is no such ban here in Australia.

In addition to their affinity for thiamine destruction, sulphites can also have extreme, lethal effects on asthmatics. It is estimated that in Australia, more than half of all asthmatics are sensitive to sulphites and the World Health Organisation estimates 20-30% worldwide. If you know anything about the Salad Bar Deaths of 1980’s America, you know how dangerous sulphites can be to an asthmatic (and if you don’t, you can probably guess by the ominous title).

But while sulphites have a tendency to send asthmatics into asthma attacks, you don’t have to be asthmatic to be sensitive to them. Your reactions could be anything from headaches to skin rashes, irritable bowel to behavioural disturbances. If you feel your diet is in need of change, try it without processed foods.

It might make the difference, so keep your eye on those labels. And if you’re healthy, it’s a lot easier to be happy too.

  2 Responses to “Preservatives – sulphites”

  1. Hi Iola

    You may also want to consider Nitrates ,
    I have a sulphate intolerance that I have well understood and managed – main impacts were Respiratory.

    But I still had the sleepless/ restless and hot feet that kept me awake until 3am
    Has my uh ha moment when I realized it was always when I had fast burgers on my way home from work.
    On further experimentation, the effects last for about 8 hours after consumption.
    So nitrates at lunch were ok – but if I had a big dose ( preserved meats for example) I would have massive sweats 1/2 the afternoon

    Noticed that MSG can be similar (Sweats) – as with age I seem to become sensitive.

  2. Dear David Murray,
    Over time, I have developed a severe allegory to sulphites and preservatives. They act like a stimulus and keep me awake at night and sometimes give me ‘restless leg’. I try to avoid them in processed food but find that a lot of fruit and vegetables have been treated with sulphites as well. Even in organic shops I have had a problem with their produce. Doctors say avoid food with sulphites, but it’s extremely difficult. I would be grateful for any advice, including where I can get fruit and veg which are not treated with sulphites in any way. I live in South Yarra. Thanks.

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