Although sulfur is our body’s third most abundant mineral, it receives comparatively little attention. Nevertheless, current research highlights the benefits of sulfur-rich foods.
Learn why the mineral is crucial for your health and which foods are high in sulfur.
What Are High Sulfur 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 organosulfur foods (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 food sulfur 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 adequate amounts of the mineral enter the body, the researchers also favored the natural route.
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.
Health Benefits of Foods High in Sulfur
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. Relieve Joint and Muscle Pain
Sulfur helps form 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, sulfur deficiency can more quickly degenerate joints, blood vessels, and skin cells.
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. Supply 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 and 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. 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, 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 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. Lower Cardiovascular Diseases Risk
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. 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 (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 toxic proteins can accumulate and cause neurodegenerative diseases in the brain.
6. Fight Bacteria
Sulfur compounds can fight fungi and bacteria. Therefore, they have long been used to treat the following dermatological conditions:
Studies show 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 in almost every kitchen. These include garlic, onions, leeks, chives, and wild garlic.
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).
Also, onions’ sulfur compounds and polyphenols 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, remember that the lion’s share of minerals and vitamins are in the yolk.
On the other hand, since collagen components in egg whites support skin, bones, and muscles, it’s best to eat eggs whole.
Numerous studies have focused on broccoli as a prime example of a sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetable.
Although broccoli is not 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, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and 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, Brussels sprouts crown themselves with a staggering 247 mg per 100 g (Sun et al. 201733).
Accordingly, studies have shown 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, according to a clinical study conducted with overweight individuals, they have an anti-inflammatory effect.
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.
However, these most potent omega-3 fatty acids can enter your body in severe quantities through seafood.
In particular, EPA and DHA are well-known for boosting fat burning and stopping 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 (*).
Red meat can be used instead of other protein sources for those who are allergic, 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.
Grass-fed beef provides four times as many omega-3 fatty acids and 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 offal, where enormous amounts of sulfur and other minerals hide.
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).
The conjugated linoleic acid in grass-fed dairy also helps you maintain healthy muscle mass (McCrorie et al. 201141).
Possible Side Effects
While adequate sulfur in foods is essential for health, too much valuable 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: 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.
The Bottom Line
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 must note that industrial agriculture uses phosphates, preventing the absorption of sulfur and other vital minerals from the soil.
Moreover, plant foods may contain antinutrients like oxalates and phytic acid, reducing the bioavailability of minerals.
However, not just vegetables deliver sulfur compounds to your body. High amounts of mineral cavort in meat, eggs, and seafood.
Frequently Asked Questions (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?
Fruit, beverages, and processed foods products are low in sulfur.
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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