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Living Sulfate Free: Diet

Updated on July 28, 2011

Having Weird Allergic Reactions to a Variety of Foods?

You may be allergic or have an intolerance to sulfates or sulfites - or even both! Some people - though rare - can be allergic to any product that happens to have a -sulf- in the ingredients, In fact, there is no concrete ways of testing for a sulf- allergy due to the confusion that surrounds it. Unfortunately, most people have to go through a trial and error process before they can discover the intricacies of their reactions.

Allergies to sulfa- are often classified as intolerance's or sensitivities. Sulfa reactions can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, from anaphylaxis to hives to asthmatic symptoms. Typically if you have asthma, the feeling of being short of breath, wheezing and a tightness in the chest will occur. If you do not have asthma, symptoms can be: nausea/vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and rashes.These are the most common reactions - though other reactions may occur. ( One time I was prescribed eye drops that happened to contain sulfites. Within one minute of the eye drops being put in my eye - my eye started to bleed. It looked like I was bawling blood. Horrifying when you're 6 years old. Anywaaaayssss.... )

*** Personal Experience *** I have been allergic to sulfa- all my life - from sulfates to sulfites and I even get reactions from asulfame potassium! When I was younger, my reactions were mainly abdominal cramping and digestive stress. After I started smoking ( yes, horrible habit don't pick it up ) my reactions quickly became respiratory, with lethargy and hot flashes. I'm not sure if there is a connection - I only know that my reactions to sulfa quickly became more frightening. ***

So, the issue is - why don't you just avoid it? Sulfiting agents and other sulf- containing ingredients tend to be hidden in food - and it often takes a lot of perusing the ingredients to find out if it contains anything that may result in a reaction. In addition - because sulf- ingredients aren't a type of food - like peanuts or wheat - it takes a lot of learning and trials to acquire common sense about what foods might contain sulf-. For example? Wine and Wine Coolers contain enough sulfites to put anyone with a sensitivity to bed because not only is it naturally occurring in the fermentation process - they also ADD sulfiting agents to the wine.

Due to sulf-'s nature of sneaking into foods, here are a few tips to avoid a reaction: both at home and out and about.

What to Look For in the Food You Buy for Your Home

Here is A Quick List of Ingredients to Look for When Searching for Sulf-free Foods:

*** THESE ARE FOOD ADDITIVES if you find a brand that has these ingredients ( example: some breads contain many different types of sulfates, where some may only contain one or two. Depending on the severity of your sensitivity - your body may be able to handle a brand that uses fewer sulfates )

1.) Ammonium Sulfate - Dough Strengthener and Conditioner

2.) Calcium Sulfate - Yeast Nutrient

3.) Ferrous Sulfate ( Iron ) - Nutrient

4.) Caramel Color - Color Additive

5.) Asulfame Potassium ( Asulfame-K) - Sweetener - does not commonly illicit a reaction, but may

6.) Sulfur Dioxide

7.) Sodium Bisulfite

8.) Potassium Bisulfite

9.) Sodium Metabisulfite

10.) Potassium Metabisulfite

11.) Sodium Sulfite

12.) Sulfite

13.) Sulfiting Agents

A Quick List of Foods To Avoid

1.) Dried Fruits

2.) Dry Potatoes ( potatoes from a box )

3.) Grape Juice

4.) Wine

5.) Wine Based Vinegars

6.) Some alcoholic beverages: The FDA requires that any alcoholic beverage that contains more than 10 ppm of sulf- has to put it on their labels. Sulf- is a naturally occurring outcome of the fermentation process, but sometimes companies are able to keep these sulf- ingredients under 10 ppm. Check the label! ( *** Mike's Hard Lemonade falls well below the required 10 ppm. This is the only malt beverage/ "wine cooler" type drink that I have been able to find that has a sulfate ratio low enough for me to not have a reaction )

7.) Most Processed Foods

8.) Pizza/Pie Crusts - store bought

9.) Shrimp

10.) Beet Sugar

11. ) Molasses/Syrups

12.) Some Jams and Jellies

13.) Saurkraut

14.) Powdered condiment mixes ( Like Gravies and Soups )

15.) Grape Juice/Fresh Lemon or Lime Juice

Some people may even experience acute reactions to simple sulfur, If you happen to be one of these people - but you still enjoy your eggs: The highest sulfur content in an egg is in the egg WHITE. Eating a breakfast of only egg whites can induce a reaction.

Eating Out

Eating Out can be frightening for the sulf- sensitive. You can never be sure of what brand or type of foods/additives they are using in their ingredients.

Here's Some Helpful Hints:

- Take a non-drowsy antihistamine before your go - or keep a one on hand. If you choose to keep one on hand, I suggest the kind that melts. If your reaction is bad enough where your throat closes you may not be able to swallow an entire pill.

- Avoid mashed potatoes and other potato products that could come from a box! Boxed Potatoes are the sulf-sensitives nightmare.

- Talk with your server! Though it may be embarrassing to send the server back to look at the ingredients listed on the products you're hoping to be able to eat - Remember: You're there to have a good time. The last thing anyone in that restaurant wants is for someone to have an allergic reaction. Your server wants a tip, your friends and family want to enjoy their night, and you want to be carefree.

- Stick with alcohol drinks and ingredients that you know - under no circumstances will contain sulfates/sulfites. If you're eyeing that Pomegranate Martini - remember that flavored liquors often contain sulf- to preserve the flavor. Ask what brands/the precise names of the liquors the bartender uses to mix their drinks and check each ingredient yourself to see if any contain sulf- ingredients within them.

What The Government Has Done To Protect Sulf-Sensitives

Title 21:

Alert Program for Undeclared Sulfites: ( Will Result in a Require Recall )

Restricted Use of Sulfites Due to High Sensitivity


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Also be careful that the brand of BENADRYL or antihistamine you are carrying is NOT the coated capsule. (The white and pink capsule that looks wet). Whatever they use to BIND the specific type of capsule ingredients to make the outside of the capsule contains a sulfa-ingredient. I had to ask my pharmacist about it because I accidentally bought them once and they made my allergic reaction I was already having 10 times worse because I didn't know!!! Needless to say instead of helping my small allergic reaction, I turned into a huge mess of hives instead and couldn't get rid of them because I kept taking more benadryl. Lesson learned- only the pink capsules for me- and not the wet looking (supposedly easy to swallow) capsules. If you look at the ingredient label you will see that there is indeed a SULFA item in the ingredient list on that specific type of benadryl product. I have to be careful on all meds that contain this wet looking appearance now.

    • profile image

      Carla @ Gluten Free Recipe Box 

      7 years ago

      I landed on this page in my search to understand carrageenans better as wiki states, carregeenans "are a family of linear sulfated polysaccharides that are extracted from red seaweeds [sea algae]." When I eat anything with carrageenans I get itchy all over. I have several food allergies. It occurs mostly with heavy whipping cream. I know that there is much debate about carrageenans being carcinogenic. Anway, if anyone knows anything about sulfated polysaccharides, I would much appreciate to hear about it.

    • Madeleine P profile imageAUTHOR

      Madeleine P 

      7 years ago from Rochester, New York

      Hello Lee!

      This is true, I often have to work closely with the pharmacists to ensure that I don't get something that will affect me. Make sure that if you are being prescribed drugs with sulfites/sulphurs in them that you mention that you have an intolerance and not an allergy. Using the wrong terminology has caused some pharmacists to believe that I'm only allergic to sulfites/sulfates and not that it's an overwhelming issue with all sulf- based elements.

      I find great success with B-12 vitamins and Alavert ( the dissolving kind ) for emergencies.

    • Madeleine P profile imageAUTHOR

      Madeleine P 

      7 years ago from Rochester, New York

      Hello Anon!

      That's great to know! Organix / Full Circle is another great one that I turn to.

    • Madeleine P profile imageAUTHOR

      Madeleine P 

      7 years ago from Rochester, New York

      Hello Kathy! Most recipes should be fine to continue! :) You'll just have to switch out the ingredients that have sulfites ( Like Balsamic Vinegar, Vinegarettes ) you can make your own sulfite-free versions of these ingredients using regular vinegar. I'll post some recipes for that in the near future.

    • Madeleine P profile imageAUTHOR

      Madeleine P 

      7 years ago from Rochester, New York

      Hello! I apologize for not getting to this sooner. At this point there are no programs that I know of that will assist people with Sulfite Free foods. However, most food is naturally sulfite-free - one just has to review the ingredients and avoid overly processed/preserved foods.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi I am allergic to sulfur all types especially watermelon and cucumber..I instantly am sick. The doctors also have not picked up on the food allergies being related to sulphur,, they just give pillsand say come back if they do not work. after googling tonight i joined the dots.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Garrafalo brand pasta does not use ferrous sulfate in their pasta.

    • profile image

      kathy vogt 

      8 years ago

      i just found out im allergic to sulfate, so now i need to find some sulphate free recipies,im having a hard time finding what i can eat because i realize that 90% of the food in my house i cant eat because of the sulphate and i just bought geroceries the day before i found what was causing my breathing problems.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      dorothy gibbs 49 minutes ago


    • profile image

      dorothy gibbs 

      8 years ago



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