Although sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in our body, it receives comparatively little attention.
Nevertheless, current research highlights the benefits of sulfur-rich foods.
Find out why the mineral can be crucial for your health and which are the best foods high in sulfur to eat.
What Is Sulfur in Foods?
Since our body cannot produce sulfur, it is an essential mineral. For this reason, you have to provide it through dietary sources.
Thus, you can consume it through inorganic sulfates in drinking water and sulfur-containing compounds in foods called organosulfur compounds (Doleman et al. 20171).
Sulfur helps with numerous bodily functions, including building and repairing DNA and protecting against cellular damage.
Moreover, two primary amino acids exist in foods that are considered organosulfur compounds:
While methionine is one of the essential amino acids, cysteine can be produced by the body. However, the body requires sulfur from foods to synthesize cysteine (Nimni et al. 20072).
These sulfur-containing amino acids are the basis for the maintenance and integrity of cellular systems. They also help to produce glutathione – an endogenous antioxidant.
Besides, these sulfur-containing amino acids help to scavenge free radicals and remove toxic compounds from the body.
Accordingly, a deficiency in foods that are high in sulfur could be responsible for the following adverse effects on your body:
- Poor physical performance
- Lack of concentration
- Muscle and joint pain
- Poor sleep
- Blemished skin
When the brain is deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids, it depletes glutathione stores to maintain cysteine levels.
As a result, the brain loses antioxidant defenses, which can accelerate degenerative processes such as dementia.
How Much Sulfur per Day?
While there is no recommended daily intake for sulfur, a team of researchers has attempted to estimate daily requirements through field trials and food diaries.
The result is an average daily consumption of 600 to 1250 mg.
Since eating foods high in sulfur is the best way to ensure that adequate amounts of the mineral enter the body, the researchers also favored the natural route.
Thereby, the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes broccoli, arugula, and all collard greens, was responsible for up to 42% of sulfur intake (Doleman et al. 20173).
Which Foods Are High in Sulfur?
You can find sulfur-containing amino acids and other organosulfur compounds in the following food groups:
- Dairy products
- Allium plants
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
Accordingly, organic sulfur-containing foods can be vegan or animal-based. For this reason, sulfur enjoys a colorful variety of foods to your table.
However, we will dig into the ten best foods high in sulfur shortly.
Sulfur Rich Foods Benefits
Since it is an essential component of human tissue, sulfur is present in every body cell.
Therefore, sulfur also plays a crucial role in joints, skin, and hair. Moreover, mineral intake through high sulfur foods is vital for the body’s metabolism and antioxidant defense systems.
1. They May Relieve Joint and Muscle Pain
Sulfur plays an essential role in forming joints, cartilage, skin, and blood vessels through glycosaminoglycans (Scott et al. 20144).
Once sulfur stores are depleted, the body cannot replace the old and low-quality glycosaminoglycans in the joints. Therefore, joints, blood vessels, and skin cells can degenerate more quickly due to sulfur deficiency.
Moreover, studies have shown that methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) can reduce inflammation and relieve joint and muscle pain (Butawan et al. 20175).
MSM is a sulfur-containing compound that we can find in both plant and animal foods.
As shown in a double-blind, randomized controlled trial, additional intake of MSM in individuals with osteoarthritis-associated knee issues improved joint function and reduced pain (Kim et al. 20056).
2. Foods High in Sulfur Are Full of Antioxidants
Sulfur is particularly needed for the synthesis of glutathione (Grimble 20067).
Glutathione is one of the most important and powerful antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals in your body.
Therefore, glutathione strengthens the immune system, removes toxic protein deposits, and can prevent age-related neurodegeneration as well as macular degeneration (Ballatori et al. 20098).
Moreover, glutathione deficiency increases the risk of chronic genitourinary, cardiac, or even gastrointestinal diseases (Lang et al. 20009).
While you can find most antioxidants in foods, glutathione is produced by the body. But to do so, it needs amino acids from food.
Consequently, the body has two options to deal with an excess of the amino acids cysteine and methionine from sulfur-containing foods:
- It oxidizes them to sulfate and excretes them.
- It stores them as glutathione.
Moreover, several organic sulfur compounds in foods are associated with antioxidant effects that may prevent tumors (Lee et al. 201210).
3. Sulfur-Rich Foods Help Fight Cancer
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) also exerts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that have anticancer potential in particular (Nakhostin-Roohi et al. 201311).
Studies have shown that MSM can help boost immune function and induce cancer cell death in colon, gastrointestinal, and liver cancers (Butawan et al. 201712).
Also, consuming abundant foods high in sulfur may increase glutathione levels, thereby inhibiting tumor formation (Bogaards et al. 199413).
Allium vegetables, in particular, are rich in organosulfur compounds, which studies have shown can inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the esophagus, breast, and lung (Bianchini et al. 200114).
Moreover, sulforaphane is also known for its antioxidant and anticancer effects (Kim et al. 201615).
The sulfur-containing compound belongs to the glucosinolate family, found in cruciferous vegetables.
4. They Lower the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
Furthermore, glucosinolates can prevent cardiovascular diseases.
According to a study, those who ate foods high in sulfur, such as broccoli, showed lower mortality rates.
Also, the scientists attributed the lower mortality to the decline in the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
They concluded that the protective effect came from glucosinolates (Zhang et al. 201116).
5. Foods High in Sulfur Prevent Neurodegenerative Diseases
Similarly, the glucosinolates of organic sulfur-containing foods promote memory function.
Accordingly, research has shown that they may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease (Jaafaru et al. 201817).
Among glucosinolates, you can find the isothiocyanates sulforaphane in sulfur-containing cruciferous vegetables.
Recent research suggests that sulforaphane-rich foods prevent amyloid-beta-induced oxidative damage.
These are those toxic proteins that can accumulate and cause neurodegenerative diseases in the brain.
6. Sulfur Has Antibacterial Properties
Sulfur compounds can fight fungi and bacteria. Therefore, they have long been used to treat the following dermatological conditions:
According to studies, sulfur-containing compounds’ efficient effect corresponds to medical-grade (Gupta et al. 200519).
For this reason, onion juice or onion face masks are proven home remedies that can cleanse your skin and make it glow.
Top 10 Foods High in Sulfur
Sulfur-rich vegetables such as cabbage, onions, or broccoli enjoy the image of being incredibly nutrient-rich foods.
In addition to vitamins, antioxidants, and other minerals, however, it is often forgotten that their sulfur content, in particular, makes them healthy.
Nevertheless, in my top 10 list of foods high in sulfur, there are also entries that you probably didn’t expect.
Allium plants include some of the most common vegetables that are present in almost every kitchen. These include garlic, onions, leeks, chives, and wild garlic, for example.
Due to their high doses of allicin and diallyl sulfide, they are among the foods highest in sulfur (Gitin et al. 201420).
Allicin, one of the most abundant sulfur compounds in Allium plants, exhibits antimicrobial, antifungal, and anticancer effects.
Studies state that this bioactive compound can induce cancer cell death and lower blood pressure, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (Borlinghaus et a. 201421).
Due to its versatile benefits, onion stands out among allium plants. In addition to allicin effects, onion can also improve bone density and regulate blood sugar (Law et al. 201622; Eid et al. 201723).
Also, the sulfur compounds and polyphenols in onions can strengthen skin and hair structure, resulting in an anti-aging effect.
Even the ancient Egyptians knew about the effect of garlic on various diseases.
Today, the cancer-preventive effects exerted by garlic and other Allium plants are widely recognized (El-Bayoumy et al. 200624).
Moreover, organic compounds in garlic that contain sulfur are considered to have anti-inflammatory therapeutic goodness (Lee et al. 201225).
Garlic must be crushed or cut to unleash its full potential. Only then alliin in garlic is converted to allicin, which has antiseptic and anticancer effects (Omar et al. 201026).
Vegetables are not the only foods that can contain sulfur. Besides being a good source of protein, healthy fats, and B vitamins, eggs contain organic sulfur compounds.
Moreover, eggs are rich in the sulfur-containing amino acid methionine, which supports the immune system, metabolic processes, and glutathione synthesis (Martinez 201727).
If you want to add more sulfur compounds to your diet with eggs, keep in mind that the lion’s share of minerals and vitamins are in the yolk.
On the other hand, since there are components of collagen in egg whites that support skin, bones, and muscles, it’s best to eat eggs whole.
Broccoli has been the focus of numerous studies as a prime example of the sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables.
Although broccoli is not that rich in glucosinolates, it’s incredibly potent for brain function (Jaafaru et al. 201828).
This effect is due to the mustard oil sulforaphane, which is the most concentrated in cooked broccoli at 476.5 μg/g. In comparison, cabbage already takes second place among cruciferous vegetables with only 168.4 μg/g (Sun et al. 201729).
Moreover, the antioxidant sulforaphane is known to prevent various types of cancer, Alzheimer’s, or even Parkinson’s disease (Kim et al. 201630).
In this regard, steaming broccoli for about two minutes helps maximize the body’s absorption of these sulfur compounds (Wang et al. 201231).
Also, cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable.
In addition to broccoli, this family of sulfur-rich foods includes cauliflower, arugula, kale, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, kohlrabi, for example.
These contain abundant amounts of minerals and vitamins, such as (*):
- Vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E, K
Furthermore, cabbage vegetables are known to protect against cardiovascular disease due to glucosinolates (Zhang et al. 201132).
While cabbage and kohlrabi take the silver medal with about 109 mg of glucosinolates, Brussel sprouts crown themselves the winner with a staggering 247 mg per 100 g (Sun et al. 201733).
Not only do walnuts have the highest omega-3 content among nuts, but they are also rich in antioxidants due to their sulfur content (Hudthagosol et al. 201234).
Accordingly, studies have shown that they can help prevent cell damage and cancer (Neale et al. 201735).
They can also improve metabolism and help with weight loss, provided you do not binge on them.
Besides their significant amount of sulfur, flaxseeds are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Therefore, flaxseeds flatter both metabolism and brain function. Moreover, they have an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a clinical study conducted with overweight individuals.
The main culprit was the mother of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (Faintuch et al. 200736).
For this reason, flaxseeds belong in every vegetarian pantry. However, the most potent omega-3 fatty acids come from the sea.
Our body can synthesize eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from plant sources only in tiny amounts.
Through seafood, however, these most potent omega-3 fatty acids can enter your body in serious quantities.
In particular, EPA and DHA are well known to boost fat burning and stop fat storage (Mater et al. 199937).
Since they can contain over 500 mg /100 g sulfur, lobster, crab, and clams are the richest in sulfur compounds.
Also, fish with 230 to 300 mg / 100 g is still one of the most potent sulfur-containing foods (*).
For those who are allergic, red meat can be used instead of other protein sources, as it is just as rich in sulfur as fish.
9. Grass-Fed Beef
Even if vegans recoil at the thought of red meat, it is undeniable that it can contribute to a person’s health, not least because of its sulfur content.
In this regard, beef and lamb have exceptionally high sulfur content. Also, species-appropriate feeding makes a significant difference.
Not only does grass-fed beef provide four times as many omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has six times as much conjugated linoleic acid as grain-fed beef (Dhiman et al. 199938).
This unique fat from grass-fat beef counteracts type 2 diabetes and fat deposit buildup (Daley et al. 201039).
Furthermore, it is beef offal, where enormous amounts of sulfur and other minerals are hiding.
10. Grass-Fed Butter
Dairy products contain sulfur in desirable amounts. Among these, grass-fed butter stands out.
Because of its high vitamin A and beta-carotene content, it has a creamy yellow to orange color. Also, it contains plenty of vitamin K2, which plays a crucial role in bone and heart health (Maresz 201540).
Additionally, the conjugated linoleic acid in grass-fed dairy helps you maintain healthy muscle mass (McCrorie et al. 201141).
Side Effects of Foods High in Sulfur
While adequate sulfur in foods is essential for health, too much useful mineral can cause side effects.
However, it’s hard to go overboard with sulfur-containing foods. Instead, supplements or impurities can be the cause of side effects:
- Diarrhea: The drinking water with high sulfur content can cause diarrhea. You can usually tell an excessive amount of the mineral by the smell of rotten eggs.
- Intestinal disorders: A high-sulfur diet may exacerbate symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis (UC) or Chron’s disease (CD), where chronic inflammation and ulcers are already present (Teigen et al. 201942).
The bottom line is that potential side effects are manageable, as consumption of sulfur-containing foods is neither sufficient for a laxative effect nor an issue for a healthy gut.
However, one can be intolerant to certain foods high in sulfur.
Foods High in Sulfur Are Essential
Sulfur is a mineral involved in many vital processes in the body. Therefore, eating sulfur-rich foods is essential for your health.
Also, most sulfur-rich foods are among the most nutrient-dense.
With this in mind, we have to note that industrial agriculture uses phosphates, preventing the absorption of sulfur and other vital minerals from the soil.
However, it’s not just vegetables that deliver sulfur compounds to your body. High amounts of the mineral cavort in meat, eggs, and seafood in particular.
Foods High in Sulfur FAQ
What does too much sulfur do to the body?
Too much sulfur can cause diarrhea. Since that’s hard to achieve with foods high in sulfur, diarrhea is usually due to sulfurous water or overdosed supplements.
What foods are low in sulfur?
There is a lot of sulfur in real organic foods, but fruits are generally low in sulfur. Beverages and processed food products are low in sulfur as well.
Is spinach high in sulfur?
With 90 mg / 100 g, spinach is among the vegetables highest in sulfur.
How much sulfur is in an egg?
There are up to 200 mg of sulfur in 100 g of an egg, which is pretty high.
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