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Can Foods Trigger My Asthma?

February 3, 2023


More than 25 million people in the United States suffer from asthma. It is one of the most prevalent chronic illnesses in the country. And currently there is no cure.

While common triggers include tobacco smoke, pets, pests, mold, dust mites, outdoor pollution, cleaning and disinfection, and exercise, there is another potential factor that could be contributing to your asthma – food.

Although food may not be as common a trigger as those listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are foods and beverages that can contribute to asthma symptoms, particularly those with high levels of sulfites.

What Are Sulfites?

Sulfites are chemicals that are typically used as preservatives. Their purpose is to slow browning and discoloration in foods and beverages during preparation, storage and distribution in order to maintain color, flavor and to help reduce food waste. They can also be used to preserve medication.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a link between sulfites and symptoms in those who have asthma. Although not considered an allergy, sensitivity to sulfites can cause symptoms such as wheezing or allergic rhinitis in approximately three-to-ten percent of people who suffer from asthma.

In the worst cases, sulfites can contribute to food-induced anaphylaxis. Those individuals who have severe, persistent, or steroid-dependent asthma are most at risk.

Group of friends cheering with different types wine, beer and cocktails over a table of cold cuts, veggies and other foods
If you’re unsure what sulfite(s) could be triggering symptoms, we recommend trying an elimination diet to help you. Remember to always work with your healthcare provider when making big dietary changes.

What Foods Contain Sulfites?

Some people may find that foods that contain sulfites can trigger their asthma symptoms if eaten in large quantities. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA) there are six types of foods that contain high levels of sulfites:

  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Packaged potatoes 
  • Wine and beer
  • Bottled lime and lemon juice
  • Shrimp
  • Pickled Foods

While primarily used as an additive, sulfites can be produced naturally as well. These include foods such as maple syrup, pectin, salmon, dried cod, corn starch, lettuce, tomatoes, soy products, eggs, onions, garlic, chives, leeks and asparagus.

How To Avoid Sulfites

To try and avoid sulfites, AllerVie Health specialist Reena Patel, DO recommends these tips for protecting yourself through your diet:

  • Read the label. Avoid any foods with “sulfite” or “sulphites” in the ingredient list. These include: sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite.
  • Focus on eating whole foods. Be sure to include fruits and vegetables without naturally occurring sulfites.
  • Eat fresh meats, dairy, grains and healthy oils

If you’re unsure as to what sulfite(s) could be triggering symptoms, we recommend trying an elimination diet to determine the culprit. Remember to always work with your healthcare provider when making big dietary changes.

Reena Patel, DO
Medically Reviewed By: Reena Patel, DO
Reviewed on: Jan. 16, 2023

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We want to help you manage your asthma

Each person’s asthma is different, and your diet could be impacting how you live with it. With AllerVie locations across the country, there’s a provider who can work with you to establish the best asthma management and long-term treatment plan based on your specific symptoms and needs.

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