Is dried fruit really a healthy snack choice?
In an attempt to get kids to eat healthier snacks, dried fruit is perceived by many parents to be a good choice. It was only recently that a warning of it's high sugar content was flagged as a reason to limit how much we give our kids. However that is not the only reason parents and caregivers should be careful.
Did you know that dried fruit almost always contains sulphites/sulfites (additives 220-228) as a preservative? Sulphites are associated with food intolerances, particularly asthma. Does your child's asthma flare up after a pack of sultanas or some dried apricots? They're not alone.
The WHO estimates the prevalence of sulphite sensitivity in the total adult asthmatic population to be 4%, but the prevalence in asthmatic children was higher, approximately 20-30%, after double-blind challenges to both steroid-dependent and non-steroid-dependent asthmatic children. Add to this the factor that asthma prevalence in general is higher in Australia than in most other parts of the world, and you begin to appreciate the scale of the problem we have.
The most recent figures tell us that 1 in 9 Australians have asthma, which is approximately 2.5 million. It’s more common in males aged 0–14, but among those that are 15 and over, it's more common in females.
It may be surprising to learn then that in Australia, the limit of allowed sulphites in food is 3 times that set by the EU, who are concerned that there is "insufficient evidence to 'fully confirm' its safety".
Food Standards Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ) state that sulphites are widely used to prevent spoilage and preserve colour. Common foods containing include cordials, dried fruit, sausages and wine. They advise that they have "thoroughly investigated the safety of sulphites and concluded that for most people sulphites are safe, but some sulphite-sensitive people, many of whom also have asthma, may react to sulphites with allergy-like symptoms".
On a personal note, and this is anecdotal evidence folks, sulphites either make me cranky or give me a migraine. Neither is pleasurable, so I avoid them. This is not particularly easy, but this week I had a win at Aldi. I found preservative free dried cranberries, and felt like I had won the lottery. What luxury to be able to have some dried fruit without side effects - thank you Aldi!
For wine fans, Dan Murphy sells Penningtons Pure Wine preservative reducing drops. Just add one drop to your glass of wine and no headaches or migraines! Preservative free wine is not particularly cheap - this is a very cost effective method.
Here are the additive numbers for the sulphites you should look out for if you have an asthmatic or someone you suspect may have a sulphite sensitivity in your family:
Sulfur dioxide (220), sodium sulfite (221), sodium bisulfite (222), sodium metabisulfite (223), potassium metabisulfite (224), calcium sulfite (226), calcium bisulfite (227) and potassium bisulfite (228)
It is important to remember that a piece of fruit is always a better choice than one in a packet in the middle aisles of the supermarket. With Crunch N Sip and similar schemes in place all around the country, kids should be eating a minimum of one piece of fruit a day. I'm lucky to keep my kids from having more than 2, the consequence of which they soon forget when faced with a delicious bunch of grapes or juicy orange or kiwi fruit!
A university-qualified nutritionist can help you figure out if you or a loved one have a food intolerance or sensitivity, so if you suspect there may be more culprits than just sulphites, make an appointment to get some evidence-based advice today.
I am available for consults in the new year, and this is one of my particular areas of interest, so please don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a time for a chat.
Asthma Australia 2017, Asthma Statistics, <https://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/national/about-asthma/what-is-asthma/statistics>
Baker GJ, Collett P, & Allen, DH 1981, 'Bronchospasm induced by metabisulphite-containing foods and drugs', Medical Journal of Australia, vol.2, pp. 614-6
European Food Safety Authority 2016, More data on sulfites needed to “fully confirm” safety, <https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/160414a>
Food Standards Australia & New Zealand 2016, Additives - Sulphites, <http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/additives/sulphite/Pages/default.aspx>
WHO 1999, Fifty-first meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives.Safety Evaluation of sulfur dioxide and sulfites and addendum', World Health Organisation, Geneva