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September 2, 2021

Sulfer is a key element in sustaining life. It’s in the soil and thus in many of the food you eat. In fact, your body needs it to build DNA and repair the damage your body undergoes on a day-to-day basis. Its most important task is perhaps allowing your digestive system to metabolize the food you eat.

However, recent farming practices, environmental damage, and other manmade concerns have led to an excess of sulfur in the soil. That means there is a huge risk that we may be consuming more sulfur on a regular basis than is good for us. Research into the field is ongoing but we have compiled a detailed breakdown of the various medical studies, along with scientific evidence, to help you make important dietary decisions. 

Why does sulfur matter?

When you talk about organosulfur we’re referring to two main compounds.

  • Cysteine which the body can self-synthesize or create on its own
  • Methionine has to come from outside sources and is thus an essential amino acid

The issue becomes when the amounts of sulfur in your diet exceed the recommended quantity. Consuming too much sulfur can be incredibly dangerous for your health. So, here’s a list of a few foods high in sulfur to help you gain a comparative understanding and better plan your diet.

  1. Poultry
steak, read meat

Meat products are a huge source of the methionine your body needs, including turkey, beef, chicken, fish, ham, and duck. Certain delicacies like the heart, liver, and other organ meats hold higher quantities of methionine than other cuts. For instance, 5 percent of the amino acid quantity in chicken is methionine. 

  1. Seafood

Many types of seafood from fish and shrimp to scallops and prawns hold significant amounts of sulfur. Depending on the type of fish you are eating, where it was bred and the feed it received you may receive varying amounts of sulfur.

  1. Legumes

Proteins obtained from plants generally have lower amounts of methionine than animal or meat-based diets. Certain ingredients specifically chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, and specific types of lentils have higher amounts of sulfur in them. 

  1. Eggs

Eggs contain a huge amount of methionine. In fact, research estimates that egg whites are 8 percent methionine and cysteine. That’s a high quantity for a single serving of food to have.

  1. Nuts
Peanuts, Cashew, walnut

Nuts and seeds get their sulfur quantities from the soil they are grown in and certain items like almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are particularly high in sulfur.

  1. Dairy

Most dairy products are high in sulfur, from milk and yogurt to the various types of cheese. Parmesan and cheddar, the two most commonly used, are especially potent in their sulfur amounts.

  1. Vegetables

Vegetables have the least amounts of sulfur by far so if you’re looking to cut down, experts recommend a plant-focused diet. That said certain products like garlic, onions, broccoli, sprouts, and radishes hold more sulfur than other items. The same is the case for greens like cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. Keep in mind that these amounts are relative and the sulfur quantities in any of these vegetables are far less than what you’d get from beef or chicken.

  1. Grains

Most food items have some amount of sulfur in them and grains like oats, wheat, and flour are no exception. But small amounts of sulfur are essential for your body’s daily processes so you shouldn’t be worried about this in any way.

  1. Spices

Spices like ginger and garlic powder, mustard, and marmite also have significant amounts of sulfur.

  1. Water

Drinking water in many parts of the world has been contaminated with sulfur that leaches out of the soil and into water wells. In part, this is because of the excessive pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides that are used on crops. As a result, the only way to stay safe is to drink filtered or bottled water that has been checked for contaminants and declared drinkable. 

Other beverages like beer, cider, or wine may also have high quantities of sulfur. Fermented drinks are a high-risk environment for naturally developing sulfur.

How much methionine is in your diet?

According to recent research, people that regularly consume meat-based diets can get as much as 6.8 grams of sulfur in a day. This is in sharp contrast to people who eat plant-based diets and receive less than half that, at an average of 3.0 grams a day. On the other hand, people who follow a vegan lifestyle may receive as low as 2.3 grams of methionine in a day. 

Recommended methionine intake

The research on how much or how little methionine your diet should hold is varying and oftentimes contradictory. In general, the amount recommended is 1.3 grams for an individual who weighs 150 pounds. That isn’t a lot. In fact, it’s significantly lower than the amounts most people regularly consume.

Is this a problem? Some research suggests that the problem lies in homocysteine, a compound derived from methionine, which may have implications related to heart disease. Of course, this is not an absolute finding, quite the opposite. Other researchers claim 1.3 grams simply isn’t enough and the initial studies were limited in their approach. They recommend a maximum of 2 grams daily for most adults and up to 3 grams per day for the elderly.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the research into sulfur and its various impact on human health is in its early stages. So far we know that it’s important, but that too much can be a bad thing. It is also safe to assume that the combination of bad growing practices and meat-focused diets means most people are getting significantly larger quantities of sulfur than is good for them.

What should you do?

As a general rule you should try eating a balanced diet that is more plant-heavy. Vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts should be your priority, whereas, poultry, fish and dairy products need to be strictly monitored and regulated. Making healthy decisions about what you put into your body can help you avoid disease and illness. So eat healthy, exercise, and take care of yourself!


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