What Are Sulphites — And Are Their Side Effects Causing My Wine Hangover?

When you feel like crap after a night of vino and , it’s easy to point your finger at the sulphites — a.k.a. the chemical preservatives — in your wine. (Never mind the fact that you took a sip every time someone insisted they were there for the right reasons and killed half a bottle; it was the sulphites, dammit!)

That said, the next time you’re tempted to blame your wine hangover on sulphites, think twice before swearing off vino altogether and get your blame game straight.

Here’s everything you need to know about sulphites — including just how much they contribute to that post- head throb. (Hint: Probably not as much as you think.)

What exactly are sulphites, anyway?

In case you didn’t know (I didn’t…), sulphites are chemicals used as preservatives and sanitizing agents in food processing, explains Sonya Angelone, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Sulphites prevent bacterial growth and the browning of foods exposed to oxygen,” she says. “They also prevent the growth of undesirable microorganisms during fermentation and food processing.”

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Nope, sulphites don’t just show up in wine. In fact, you’ll find ’em in a slew of different food products, says Beth Warren, a dietitian and author of .

They’re not always just additives, either. “Sulphites are found naturally in a variety of foods,” Warren says.

What foods and drinks contain sulfites?

“Sulphites naturally occur in black tea, eggs, vinegar, fermented foods, peanuts, wine, broccoli, cabbage, kale, garlic, onions, strawberries, plums, and coconuts,” says dietitian Scott Keatley.

In addition to these natural sources, you’ll also find sulphites as additives in of other eats. Here’s a solid list of foods that may be high in sulphites, from Warren and Angelone:

  • Baked goods
  • Soup mixes
  • Jams
  • Canned vegetables
  • Pickled foods
  • Gravies
  • Dried fruit
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables
  • Potato chips
  • Trail mix
  • Beer and wine
  • Some fruit and vegetable juices
  • Syrups
  • Tea
  • Fresh or frozen prawns
  • Guacamole
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Peeled potatoes

So, basically sulphites are everywhere.

What do sulphites look like on ingredient lists?

If you now feel like literally everything you eat contains sulphites, I had the same reaction. Luckily, you can totally identify which of your go-to foods and drinks contain sulphites.

By law, additives like sulphites have to be listed on a product’s ingredients list, says Keatley.

Look out, though; sulphites can show up under a few different names. Keri Gans, a dietitian and author of  recommends keeping an eye out for the following:

  • sodium sulphite
  • sodium metabisulphite
  • sodium bisulphate
  • potassium bisulphate
  • potassium metabisulphite

Are sulphites actually bad for you?

Though sulphites get blamed for practically everything, they aren’t necessarily bad. Like, do you get a hangover after you have tea? Or eat trail mix? Probably not. “Billions of people consume sulphites with no reaction whatsoever,” Keatley says.

That said, sulphites can cause trouble for people with sensitivities and allergies to the chemicals, which aren’t all that uncommon.

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In people who are sensitive or allergic to these chemicals, the effects of consuming them can include nausea, diarrhoea, gas, and headaches. The reaction is more severe in people with asthma, who may experience wheezing, congestion, shortness of breath, and even anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction), says Angelone.

If you notice these symptoms after eating or drinking a sulphite-containing product, you might have an issue with them. (To know for sure, get tested by an allergist.)

The verdict on that whole sulphite wine hangover stuff.

Ultimately, for most vino lovers, dehydration and the histamines (compounds that can trigger inflammation) in wine are the real hangover culprits, says Keatley. However, if you  have a sulphite allergy or sensitivity, you’ll probably feel pretty crappy after drinking wine (even after just a few sips).

FYI: White wines contain more sulphites than reds, so if you have a sensitivity or allergy, you’re more likely to notice if after drinking Chardonnay than Cab Sauv, says Gans.

Otherwise, you can avoid the throbbing headache by sticking to just one glass of wine and drinking plenty of water before bed.

The bottom line: Sulphites don’t cause hangovers, but if you have a sulfite allergy, you might feel like crap after consuming one of the (many) foods that contain these chemicals.



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