Eating anything that contains sulfites causes mild to severe breathing difficulties in about 5 percent of people with asthma, which translates to well over a million Americans.
Sulfites are chemicals that occur naturally in some foods, most notably shrimp. They’re also used as preservatives in foods such as wine, balsamic vinegar, dried fruits, pickled foods, bottled lemon juice, soft drinks, dehydrated soups and mashed potato flakes.
If you think sulfites may trigger asthma attacks in you or in one of your children, avoid foods with the following ingredients: sodium sulfite, sulfur dioxide, sodium or potassium bisulfite and sodium or potassium metabisulfite.
When dining out, make sure sulfites are not used in the preparation of any dishes you’re ordering.
Certain foods in and of themselves can, in rare cases, trigger asthma attacks. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
If you suspect that food may be related to your asthma attacks but can’t pinpoint the culprit, try keeping a food diary. Write down what you ate and when you ate it, and note each asthma attack. Review the entries after several weeks to look for a food–asthma link.
Knowing what triggers your asthma and reading the labels on processed foods are your best protection against a food-related asthma attack.