“While we might not immediately think of sulfur when working to improve our diet or our health, it is an essential mineral not to be overlooked!”

High Sulfur Foods (Paleo)

Knowledge is an incredibly powerful tool that helps lead you to your next action steps on your healing journey.

There is so much nutrition information advice available at the tip of your fingers, it can be hard to know what is true, and more importantly, what applies to you.

One particular topic that many are not aware of is the controversy regarding sulfur.

Sulfur is a mineral found in many foods that you likely regularly eat without much attention, but is incredibly important for health.

When you start noticing what foods sulfur is in, and why it is beneficial, this information catalyzes change. 

While some of us may need more sulfur in the diet to support detoxification or hormone balance, others may need to limit sulfur rich foods if they show symptoms of sensitivity to it.

This is what is so beautiful about Functional Medicine: nutrition is personalized for each individual’s needs. 

This article will cover the ins and outs of the mineral sulfur and you’ll walk away understanding what foods you might need more of in your diet and when it makes sense to hold back a little while you dive deeper into your unique health challenges. 

This Article Covers the Following on Sulfur:

  • What is sulfur, organic sulfur vs. inorganic and why it’s essential
  • Many of the most important structural and functional roles that sulfur plays in the body
  • Who might benefit from eating more high-sulfur options
  • Who might benefit from a short-term low sulfur diet
  • The top 6 Paleo high-sulfur foods 
  • A suggested one day high sulfur meal plan 

What Is Sulfur?

Sulfur is an essential mineral for all living organisms. Sulfur is a key component of amino acids (such as cysteine and methionine), vitamins (like thiamine and biotin), and other biomolecules.

The word “essential,” in the context of nutrition, means it is needed for life and it must be obtained through the diet.

Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the body, after calcium and phosphorus, both of which have large deposits in the bones. 

Sulfur exists in nature either as organic or inorganic compounds. Most of the sulfur we get from the diet is organic and in the form of organosulfur compounds.

The bulk of dietary sulfur comes from protein.

Most proteins contain around three to six percent sulfur-containing amino acids such as the essential amino acid methionine and also cysteine.  B vitamins, thiamin and biotin, also contain sulfur. 

Inorganic sulfur comes from water where sulfur salts are present. Think of the sulfur you smell at some natural hot springs, for example.

This accounts for a small amount of our daily sulfur intake and largely depends upon water supply

Functions Of Sulfur In The Body

Sulfur has many critical functions in the body, including:

  • Structure and growth – the sulfur-containing amino acids, methionine and cysteine, are needed for protein synthesis. Protein makes up much of the structural components of your body and is found in cell walls, enzymes, skin, bones and everywhere!
  • Methylation – methionine cycles to homocysteine and back to methionine with the help of folate, vitamin B12 and other cofactors to make SAMe. SAMe is the main methyl donor in the body, which is critical for detoxification, genetic and epigenetic expression and more. 
  • Nitrogen balance – as proteins break down, nitrogen is released and exits the body via the urea cycle. Sulfur helps to balance nitrogen. 
  • Connective tissues – Chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) are sulfur-containing compounds responsible for the strength and flexibility of connective tissues. These are also common supplements used in joint disease, such as arthritis, to reduce joint pain and inflammation. 
  • Glutathione – Glutathione is one of the most important sulfur-containing compounds that the body makes. We also get a small amount through food and it is a common supplement. Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant, it provides detoxification support and is immune supportive. Since the body doesn’t store sulfur, like it does many other minerals, glutathione levels are one way that the body keeps sulfur around. 
  • Detoxification – In phase 2 of liver detoxification, many toxins get attached to sulfur compounds in a process called sulfation. This attachment allows the toxin to then leave the body. The common medication Tylenol (acetaminophen) is detoxified through this pathway, which is why it is known to use up sulfur and deplete glutathione in the body. 
  • Sulforaphane and DIM (diindolemethane) – these glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds found mainly in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. These compounds are antioxidants, support estrogen detoxification and hormone balance, are anti-cancer and neuroprotective.
  • Antimicrobial – Garlic, which is rich in a sulfur compound called allicin, is antimicrobial and offers a great tool for improving microbiome and digestive health and addressing bacterial or fungal overgrowths.  
  • Hormonal health – DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is an abundant steroid hormone in the body produced by the adrenals, brain and ovaries or testes. It is a precursor for the major sex hormones including estrogen and testosterone. DHEA is converted to DHEA-S with the addition of a sulfate group (sulfur!). DHEA-S accounts for the majority of the circulating DHEA in the body. Without enough sulfur in the body, this conversion can’t happen

As you can see from this list, sulfur plays many important functions in the body.

If your hormones are out of balance, your detoxification is sluggish, your joints hurt or you are noticing increased signs of aging, you might need more sulfur in your diet.

In addition, those with low protein intakes including the elderly, dieters or vegans might not be meeting their needs for sulfur simply from not eating (or absorbing) enough protein.

You’ll find a list of foods high in sulfur below


Sulfur Sensitivity

While it’s true that many will benefit from more sulfur-rich foods in the diet, a sector of people might actually be sensitive to sulfur.

As the amino acid methionine (sulfur-containing) metabolizes to homocysteine, homocysteine then converts back to methionine (methylation). 

Homocysteine can also go down another pathway where it releases the sulfur group in the form of sulfate. The enzyme responsible for this is called CBS or cystathionine beta synthase.

Some people might have a genetic SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) in this enzyme that actually speeds it up creating an abundance of sulfate that may collect and cause symptoms like loose stools, foul gas or headaches.

This may go hand-in-hand with poor methylation for some.

Sulfate can’t leave the body as it is – it needs to be converted to a less toxic form called sulfite, which can then be excreted.

Don’t worry about the science here, the main point is that some of us might be more sensitive to sulfur for a variety of reasons, whether genetic or environmental.  

Others may be sensitive to sulfates or sulfites in food – think wine, dried fruits and other preserved foods.

And others still, may develop a sensitivity to sulfur as a result of SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) or other GI infections. 

In all of these cases, a short-term sulfur elimination might be helpful in relieving symptoms while the root causes are addressed. If you follow a low-sulfur (not no sulfur) diet for a couple weeks, do you feel better? 

If so, the main question to ask here is why. Discovering the “why” and addressing the root will have you back to the sulfur-rich foods in no time. It’s vital to highlight that because the foods that contain sulfur are so incredibly nutritious, long-term eliminations aren’t advised.

The same is true for oxalates and other nutrients and compounds that make up whole foods.

Paleo High Sulfur Foods

The best way to meet your sulfur needs is by getting enough protein and sulfur-rich foods in the diet.

For those with sulfur sensitivity, this list can be used as a starting place for a short-term elimination, ideally with the support of your Functional Medicine doctor or dietitian. 

  1. Alliums – This plant family, the onion family, includes garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives. 
  2. Cruciferous veggies – The cruciferous, or brassica, family of vegetables includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, turnips, arugula, etc. 
  3. Eggs – a Paleo staple, be sure to choose organic and pasture-raised options when you do include this powerhouse food
  4. Meat and seafood – grass-fed beef, pastured pork, wild game, pasture-raised chicken, and wild salmon
  5. Collagen – from bone broth, tougher cuts of meat and Advanced Collagen 
  6. Nuts and seeds – sesame seeds, cashews, pine nuts, pistachios, almonds, etc.

As you can see, sulfur is found in a wide variety of food and a diverse diet will help you meet your needs.

Non-Paleo sulfur food sources include dairy and legumes; however, you can easily meet your needs while following a Paleo template. 

One – Day High Sulfur Paleo Meal Plan 

For those looking to add more sulfur to your diet, look no further than delicious, easy and satisfying Paleo meals.

This is perfect for those working on estrogen balance or detoxification as it includes protein-rich foods paired with an abundance of veggies. 

Here is an example of a sulfur-rich meal day:


Broccoli Bacon Breakfast Skillet – contains sulfur-rich eggs, broccoli and cauliflower


Chicken, Apple and Kale Salad – contains sulfur-rich chicken, kale, almonds and mustard


Turmeric Paleo Dip with raw veggies, kale chips or grain-free crackers – contains sulfur-rich eggs and garlic


Paleo Salmon Fritters with Pan Fried Shaved Brussels Sprouts – contains sulfur-rich salmon, chives and brussels sprouts

Sulfur is an incredibly important mineral with so many crucial roles in our daily health and wellness.

Like most things, balance is key; we want to have enough to meet our needs and a well-functioning digestive and metabolic system to handle the sulfur that we need.

While we might not immediately think of sulfur when working to improve our diet or our health, it is an essential mineral not to be overlooked! 

Watch my video on one of my favorite detox supplements, glutathione


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