If you’re looking for a tasty way to diversify your food intake, you’ve come to the right place.
Sulfur is essential for life—it’s a basic element in amino acids, including the ones that make up our proteins, and it’s a component of many other important vitamins and minerals. That means if we want to be healthy, we need to get plenty of sulfur in our diet.
But most people don’t like the idea of eating sulfur—we think of it as a dangerous substance that can cause explosions or kill us with its smell. But you don’t have to worry about that on this blog. We’ve compiled tons of delicious recipes that feature foods high in sulfur and will help you achieve all your dietary goals.
Check out the recipes below, or head directly over to our recipe index!
Food With Sulfur
Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in your body. It is present in methionine and cysteine, which are two of the amino acids you use to make proteins. Both of these amino acids are present in your skin, hair, and nails where they help to make these tissues strong and flexible.
You obtain the sulfur your body needs from animal and plant-based proteins as well as other types of compounds such as sulfinates, allicin, and sulfides. Sulfur is also present in thiamin (vitamin B-1) and biotin (vitamin H).
Why You Need Sulfur
Your body needs sulfur to build and fix your DNA and protect your cells from damage that can lead to serious diseases such as cancers. Sulfur also assists your body to metabolize food and contributes to the health of your skin, tendons, and ligaments.
The two amino acids that include sulfur are methionine and cysteine. Methionine is an essential amino acid that cannot be synthesized by your body and must be consumed from protein-based sources. Cysteine, on the other hand, is a non-essential amino acid and is synthesized by your body. You don’t need to consume it directly, but you do need to consume sulfur in forms that can be used to produce this compound.
Sulfur is also found in glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and methylsulfonylmethane, (which you may recognize as MSM). These three supplements are frequently used to relieve joint pain and inflammation. Some natural health practitioners believe they may also improve the quality of skin, fingernails, and other tissues.
These therapeutic benefits are not completely proven or understood, however, it has been proposed that this may be due, in part, to the presence of serum sulfates in them.
No recommended daily amounts have been proposed for sulfur intake. However, it has been proposed that in some cases, too much sulfur in the diet can lead to intestinal problems, including:
- inflammatory bowel disease
- ulcerative colitis
These conditions can result when bacteria in the intestines convert excess sulfates to hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S).
Foods with Sulfur
Dietary sulfur comes in many forms. It was once thought that animal-based proteins were the primary source of sulfur, but we now know that it’s also found in a variety of plant-based foods and non-protein foods. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for methionine has been set at 14 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, or approximately 1000 milligrams per day. No RDA has been set for other forms of sulfur.
The sulfur-containing foods below have been shown to provide health benefits. However, some consumers have reported experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort, with cases resulting in ulcerative colitis from sulfates found in drinking water and some allium and cruciferous vegetables.
- Turkey, beef, eggs, fish, and chicken
Turkey, beef, eggs, fish, and chicken are animal-based sources of methionine, the essential amino acid that must be consumed through your diet since it cannot be synthesized by your body.
- Nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes
It is also possible to obtain methionine from a vegetarian diet. Nuts, seeds, grains and legumes are great plant-based sources of this amino acid.
- Chickpeas, couscous, eggs, lentils, oats, turkey and walnuts
Chickpeas, couscous, eggs, lentils, oats, turkey and walnuts are good sources of getting cysteine through your diet.
- Allium Vegetables
Other than proteins, allium vegetables are one of the main sources of dietary sulfur. This group of vegetables is rich in various forms of sulfur, including sulfides, thiosulfates, sulfoxides, vinyldthiins, and ajoenes. These vegetables include garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots and are associated with benefits in cardiovascular health, bone health, blood sugar control, and detoxification.
- Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are another primary source of dietary sulfur. They provide it in a form known as glucosinolates. They are also high in fiber and are associated with a healthy diet. There have been claims that these vegetables help to reduce the risk of cancer, but unfortunately, clinical studies remain inconclusive so far. The cruciferous group of vegetables includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, kale, and radishes.
- Whole Grains
Whole grains are a good source of sulfur in the form of thiamin (vitamin B-1). Like the essential amino acid methionine, thiamine cannot be produced by your body and must be obtained from your diet.
- Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables provide sulfur in the form of biotin (vitamin H), which is involved in the formation of fatty acids. This lesser-known vitamin is also produced by intestinal bacteria.
function of sulfur in the body
Sulfur is one of the major elements in the atmosphere (1Trusted Source).
It’s all around you, including in the soil your food grows in, making it an integral part of many foods.
Your body uses sulfur for various important functions, including building and repairing DNA, as well as protecting your cells against damage. Thus, including enough sulfur-rich foods in your diet is vital for your health (2Trusted Source).
Yet, some people report feeling better when eliminating or drastically reducing sulfur-rich foods from their diet.
This article reviews the latest evidence on whether foods with sulfur are beneficial or should be avoided.
What is sulfur?
Sulfur, calcium, and phosphorus are the three most abundant minerals in the human body (3Trusted Source).
Sulfur plays an important role in crucial functions in your body, such as making protein, regulating gene expression, building and repairing DNA, and helping your body metabolize food (2Trusted Source).
This element is also essential for making and recycling glutathione — one of the body’s main antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and prevent cell damage caused by oxidative stress (2Trusted Source).
Sulfur also helps maintain the integrity of connective tissues, such as your skin, tendons, and ligaments (3Trusted Source).
Many foods and beverages — even drinking water from certain origins — naturally contain sulfur. Some medications and supplements, including certain antibiotics, analgesics, and joint pain remedies, contain varying levels of this mineral as well (4Trusted Source, 5).
Sulfur is a mineral that your body uses for various functions, including making and repairing DNA. Many foods and beverages, as well as some drinking water, medications, and supplements, contain sulfur.
Foods and beverages rich in sulfur
Sulfur is found in a large variety of foods. The biggest categories include (2Trusted Source, 5, 6Trusted Source):
- Meat and poultry: especially beef, ham, chicken, duck, turkey, and organ meats like heart and liver
- Fish and seafood: most types of fish, as well as shrimp, scallops, mussels, and prawns
- Legumes: especially soybeans, black beans, kidney beans, split peas, and white beans
- Nuts and seeds: especially almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, walnuts, and pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Eggs and dairy: whole eggs, cheddar, Parmesan and gorgonzola cheese, and cow’s milk
- Dried fruit: especially dried peaches, apricots, sultanas, and figs
- Certain vegetables: particularly asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, leeks, onion, radishes, turnip tops, and watercress
- Certain grains: especially pearl barley, oats, wheat, and flour made from these grains
- Certain beverages: particularly beer, cider, wine, coconut milk, and grape and tomato juice
- Condiments and spices: especially horseradish, mustard, marmite, curry powder, and ground ginger
Drinking water can also contain significant amounts of sulfur depending on where you live. This may be especially true if you source your water from a well (5).
Moreover, sulfites — a food preservative derived from sulfur — are commonly added to packaged foods like jams, pickles, and dried fruit to extend their shelf life. Sulfites can also develop naturally in fermented foods and beverages including beer, wine, and cider (5).
Sulfur is naturally found in a variety of foods and beverages. Sulfur-derived sulfite is another form of sulfur commonly added to some packaged foods.
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Possible side effects of too much sulfur
While following a diet containing enough sulfur is vital for your health, too much of this mineral may cause a few unpleasant side effects.
Drinking water containing high levels of sulfur may cause loose stools and diarrhea. Excessive amounts of this mineral in your water can also give it an unpleasant taste and make it smell like rotten eggs. You can test the sulfur content of your water by using sulfur sticks (5).
On the other hand, there’s currently no strong evidence that eating large amounts of sulfur-rich foods has the same laxative effect.
A sulfur-rich diet may worsen symptoms in those with ulcerative colitis (UC) or Chron’s disease (CD) — two inflammatory bowel diseases that cause chronic inflammation and ulcers in the gut.
Emerging research suggests that sulfur-rich foods may help a specific type of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) thrive in your gut. These bacteria release sulfide, a compound thought to break down the gut barrier, causing damage and inflammation (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
That said, not all sulfur-rich foods may have the same effect. For instance, while a diet rich in sulfur-containing animal products and low in fiber may raise SRB levels, one rich in sulfur-containing vegetables appears to have the opposite effect (8Trusted Source).
Moreover, many factors other than the sulfur content of foods may influence the balance of gut bacteria. Therefore, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Drinking water with high levels of sulfur may cause diarrhea. People with CD and UC may benefit from limiting the amount of certain sulfur-rich foods in their diet, but more research is needed.
Are some people sensitive to sulfur?
Anecdotally, some people report feeling better when following a low sulfur diet. However, there’s currently limited research on sulfur intolerance.
Instead, most studies focus on the side effects of sulfites — a preservative derived from sulfur that’s added to some alcoholic beverages and packaged foods to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life.
Around 1% of people appear to have a sulfite sensitivity that causes itching, hives, swelling, nausea, or asthma-like symptoms when exposed to foods rich in sulfites. In extreme cases, exposure may even cause seizures or anaphylactic shock (9Trusted Source).
People sensitive to sulfites benefit from avoiding foods that contain them. However, there’s currently little evidence to suggest that they also benefit from limiting sulfur-rich foods.
If you’re sensitive to sulfites, make sure to check food labels and avoid ingredients like sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, and potassium metabisulfite (9Trusted Source).
Some people are sensitive to sulfites, a sulfur-derived preservative added to some alcoholic beverages and packaged foods. As such, they should avoid sulfite-rich foods. However, there’s little evidence that they should avoid sulfur-rich foods as well.
Sulfur-rich foods can also be beneficial
Despite the potential drawbacks of getting too much sulfur, it’s important to include this nutrient in your diet.
Sulfur plays a critical role in gene expression and maintaining the integrity of body tissues. It also helps metabolize food and protects your body from inflammation and oxidative stress (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
In addition, sulfur-rich foods are often rich in a variety of other nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Cutting these foods out of your diet may make it more difficult to meet your daily nutrient needs.
What’s more, certain sulfur-rich foods, such as garlic and cruciferous vegetables, may even help protect against diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as well as age-related losses of brain function (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
Thus, limiting your intake of these foods too drastically is not recommended, unless it’s truly needed.
If you suspect sulfur-rich foods to be a cause of bowel discomfort, consider seeking guidance from a registered dietitian to ensure that your low sulfur diet continues to meet your daily nutrient needs.
Certain sulfur-rich foods may protect against certain diseases. Foods rich in sulfur also tend to be rich in a variety of other nutrients, and eating too little of these foods can make it difficult to meet your nutrient needs.
The bottom line
Sulfur is a mineral involved in many important processes in your body, including the making and repairing of DNA. Therefore, eating enough sulfur-rich foods is essential for your health.
That said, drinking water containing too much of the mineral might cause loose stools and diarrhea. What’s more, a diet rich in sulfur may potentially worsen symptoms in people with certain inflammatory bowel diseases.
Remember that most sulfur-rich foods also contain a variety of other beneficial nutrients. Those who suspect sulfur-rich foods to contribute to bowel discomfort may want to speak to a dietitian to ensure that their diet continues to meet their daily nutrient needs.
Sulfites are a food preservative widely used in winemaking, thanks to their ability to maintain the flavor and freshness of wine.
While they’re found in many foods and beverages, they’re particularly associated with a long list of side effects related to wine consumption, including the dreaded wine-induced headache.
Research suggests that these compounds may affect some people more than others.
While some people can tolerate sulfites, others may experience serious side effects, such as hives, swelling, and stomach pain.