Experienced vegetarians know which foods give them the protein they would otherwise miss by avoiding meat. But lesser-known micronutrients such as the mineral sulfur receive less attention. Protein sources like red and white meats contain sulfur. Most people get enough sulfur in their diets, but unless you include the right kinds of alternative proteins and plant foods in your vegetarian diet, you may find yourself with a sulfur deficiency.
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Interest in oral use of sulfur centers on pain relief. Eating sulfur-rich foods and taking sulfur supplements may provide specific medicinal benefits, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While sulfur baths represent a traditional therapy for joint pain, the mineral also provides relief when ingested. While more research is needed, methylsulfonylmethane, the sulfur form available in food and some supplements, appears to help pain related to osteoarthritis. UMMC also notes that research into the use of sulfur to treat seasonal hay fear symptoms shows promise, but called for further studies.
Sulfur resides primarily in protein-rich foods. Meat eaters likely run no risk of being deficient in sulfur. The mineral is present in red meat, turkey and fish. But for vegetarians, these sulfur sources become scarcer. Because eggs are another major source of sulfur, the problem is amplified for vegans, who avoid all animal products. Vegans and people who don’t eat a well-balanced diet are at risk of sulfur deficiency, notes UMMC.
The health journal “Nutrition and Metabolism” touts eggs as inexpensive food sources with one of the highest concentrations of amino acids found in protein foods. Look to cruciferous vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage to provide additional sulfur. Onions, asparagus and garlic are also good sources. Wheat germ, a crunchy supplement found in baking aisles of supermarkets and in health food stores, is another good source of the mineral. Add it to baked casseroles and breads, and sprinkle it on cereal and yogurt.
The herb horsetail contributes sulfur, notes UMMC. Horsetail is not a culinary herb; drink horsetail tea to take advantage of the plant’s sulfur content. Some mineral water products contain sulfur, as does tap water in certain regions of the country. Read labels carefully for store-bought water and check with your local water or health boards to determine if sulfur generally exists in your area’s well and municipal water supplies. You may also opt for a sulfur supplement if you are concerned about nutritional gaps in your vegetarian diet. Because no specific recommendation currently exists for sulfur, ask your doctor for a recommended dosage.