Red wine headaches. It’s the most common reason we’ve heard for people abstaining from red wine, even though they like it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “The sulfites in red wine give me headaches.”
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That was me banging my head against the keyboard. This is one of the biggest myths about wine and it’s so prevalent that we even started believing it, forgetting everything we know about wine in the process.
So first things, first. Let’s debunk the myth that sulfites in red wine cause headaches. In the United States, the EU and Australia, the allowable level of sulfites is actually about 25 percent higher for white wines than red wines. If you get headaches from red wine and not white, it is extremely unlikely that sulfites are the cause. There is no credible medical source that definitively links sulfites in wine to headaches.
If you have a problem with sulfites (and that is still a big IF), those found in wine will likely cause respiratory problems, not headaches. If you are a glutton for punishment and want to test your sulfite tolerance, one way is to eat a healthy portion of dried fruit, which are high in sulfites and see what happens. Dried fruit have far more sulfites than most wines. If it turns out that you are sensitive to them, that is a good test.
There are a small number of wineries that use minimal and, in some cases, no sulfites in their wines. Most mass-produced wines will have significant amounts of sulfites, however. Look for smaller boutique wineries, especially those that are organic. Organic wines in the US cannot have sulfites added to the wine, although remember that there are some naturally occurring sulfites in wine.
Other countries that allow for some added sulfites often limit the concentration. However, if you are interested in these types of wines, make sure that you know what you are getting into. Many wineries produce wines with organically grown grapes but don’t actually produce wines organically because they use additives (like sulfites). Be certain that you know what you are actually getting.
With sulfites out of the way as a probable cause of red wine headaches, the medical community seems split over the likely cause of them being: tannins, histamines and/or tyramines.
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