However, if this doesn't apply to you (and you're still stinking up the bathroom), it’s time to check in with what you’re eating, particularly if that’s food high in sulfur.
What's sulfur, and why do you need it?
Sure, eating high-sulfur vegetables and fruits might make your poop stink. But aside from that unfortunate downside, is sulfur bad for you? While minerals like calcium and potassium tend to get a lot of attention when it comes to our health, Kaytee Hadley, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Richmond, Virginia, says sulfur is important, too.
- Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition
- Frances Phillips, registered nutritional therapist, specializing in skin and beauty related issues
- Katie Silcox, MA, ayurvedic specialist and founder of Shakti School
- Kaytee Hadley, MS, RDN, CPT, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer based in Richmond, Virginia
- Samantha Nazareth, MD, FACG, board-certified gastroenterologist based in New York City
“Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the human body, affecting everything from detoxification to joint health,” she says. “Sulfur is a building block for other compounds in the body, including amino acids and antioxidants, and it helps to build bones and joints, repair DNA, and regulate gene expression. Many sulfur compounds also support conditions such as diabetes, cancer, congestive heart failure, and arthritis.”
Because our bodies can't produce sulfur, we must get it from our diet. In fact, you can see numerous benefits from learning what foods are high in sulfur and eating them regularly. It's a common element your body needs to produce the antioxidant glutathione, as well as support blood and digestive function. It's also great for your skin and hair, Zeitlin says. From eating sulfur-rich foods for hair growth to bettering your bone and joint health, read on for everything you should know.
Benefits and risks of eating food high in sulfur
Here are the sulfur-rich food benefits to look forward to, as well as things you should be aware of, including the symptoms of too much sulfur in the body and health conditions that may be worsened by eating sulfur-rich foods.
1. Fights off acne
If you’re hoping for clearer skin, snacking on more high-sulfur fruits and veggies could help. “Adding in sulfur-rich foods has been shown to help fight acne and reduce other skin issues like rosacea and dry, scaly skin patches,” says Zeitlin. “Studies have shown that sulfur has an antibacterial effect against the bacteria that causes acne and dermatitis.”
2. Improves your cellular health
Another prime sulfur-rich food benefit is that getting more of the mineral could positively impact your cellular health. “Sulfur-rich foods provide the building blocks for two of our body’s major antioxidants called glutathione and NAC (short for N-acetyl cysteine),” says Hadley. “Our cells, and sometimes even DNA, become damaged by our everyday activities and worsened when we’re exposed to harmful substances like mold—it’s inevitable. But don’t worry, because when you eat sulfur-rich foods, you’re getting the antioxidants that help to repair and prevent that damage.”
3. Aids in liver detoxification
Stocking up on high-sulfur vegetables can help aid in liver detoxification way better than any supposed “cleanse,” says Hadley. “While celery juice cleanses and other supposed detox strategies might not be worth your while, eating sulfur-rich foods like broccoli and kale are actually great for detoxification,” she says. “Sulfur is essential for ‘phase two detoxification’ in the liver, which transforms toxins into less harmful substances that can then be eliminated from the body.”
4. Strengthens hair
Did you know you can eat sulfur-rich foods for hair growth? “Sulfur is essential for holding keratin—hair's all-important building block—in shape,” Frances Phillips, registered nutritional therapist, previously told Well+Good. “It also strengthens hair and helps the absorption of other important proteins.” She recommends adding more onion, garlic, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli to your diet for the best results.
5. Boosts bone and joint health
Last but not least, the mineral can boost your bone and joint health. According to Hadley, MSM or methylsulfonylmethane, a sulfur-containing compound, is often taken in supplement form by athletes and people with arthritis. “[It has] an incredible ability to reduce inflammation and repair bones and joints,” she says. But you can also eat your way to better bone and joint health. “Instead of supplementing, you can take a food-first approach by eating sulfur-rich foods, providing your body with the building blocks to make MSM and reaping all the other benefits from these powerhouse foods,” Hadley explains.
Risks and side effects:
Clearly, the question “Is sulfur bad for you?” has been answered, as there are many benefits to eating foods high in sulfur. With that being said, there are still some risks to be aware of before you stock your fridge, as well as some sulfur foods to avoid depending on any health conditions you may have.
Generally speaking, anyone who overdoes it on sulfur-rich food could experience some digestive issues. As Hadley says, symptoms of too much sulfur in the body include gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and indigestion. With that being said, certain individuals should watch their intake more than others.
“People with certain gastrointestinal conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (ISB) and hydrogen sulfide SIBO—which gives IBS-like symptoms—may find these foods triggering for symptoms,” says Hadley. Past research has shown those with IBS, in particular, could experience worsening GI issues if their diet is too rich in sulfur, so speaking with a doctor is advised before upping your intake.
In addition, one in 100 people have a sulfur food intolerance, making them sensitive to sulfur and sulfites. “People with sulfur intolerance often experience tummy upset, skin issues, fatigue, headaches, or body aches and pains when they eat sulfur-rich foods or come in contact with sulfur,” says Hadley. She says an easy way to test for a sulfur intolerance is to take an Epsom salt bath and see how you feel. “While most people love a good soak, people with sulfur intolerance will often feel worse afterward because Epsom salt is made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen,” she says. “If you suspect you have a sulfur intolerance, consult with a registered dietitian or doctor to help you identify what’s causing your symptoms.”
While Hadley says there are few downsides, if any, to eating more sulfur-rich plants (like watercress, broccoli, cabbage, and kale) other than the potential of gas and loose stools, animal products may be one of the main high-sulfur foods to avoid in excess. “There is some evidence to suggest that eating a lot of animal products containing high amounts of sulfur amino acids—like eggs, meat, and dairy—could increase the risk of heart disease,” she says.
What foods are high in sulfur?
While there aren’t necessarily foods that make your poop smell good, there are certain foods—particularly high-sulfur vegetables and fruits—that can make your bowel movements smell super bad, Zeitlin says. (Other common stink-inducing foods include lactose, alcohol, and sugar alcohols.) If you're wondering what foods are high in sulfur, here are a few that might be responsible for particularly smelly poops.
1. Cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and cabbage are high in sulfur. If eaten in excess, these veggies could result in some pretty unpleasant bathroom experiences. “These foods can make some people feel bloated and gassy because of the amount of fiber they contain,” says Zeitlin. “If you experience bloat from these foods but love eating them, it would be better on your gut to eat them cooked instead of raw." The reason? Cooking will help break down some of the fiber for easier digestion.
2. Animal protein
That’s right—red meat, poultry, fish, pork, and eggs can all make your gas smell, too, says Zeitlin. That's because certain amino acids found in animal-based protein contain sulfur. What’s more, if you have the steak with wine or beer, it might be even stinkier, as alcohol can also be a trigger for malodorous BMs.
You might love seasoning vegetables and meats with onions and garlic, but those can lead to body odors (including rank breath, poops, and pee smells), says Zeitlin. Thanks, sulfur! (The upside? According to Phillips, they’re two of the most sulfur-rich foods for hair growth, along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.) They’re also FODMAP foods, meaning they might cause a reaction in those with IBS or other gut sensitivities.
4. Dried fruit
When it comes to high-sulfur fruits, the dried variety is what’s typically high in sulfur, as it's used to preserve the fruit. That’s why when you eat it in large portions, it can make your gas smell bad. Stick to a small serving and swap for fresh when you can to keep any unpleasant odors in check.
This one is the biggest betrayal of all. “Dairy products are rich in sulfur," says Zeitlin. "However, not everyone who eats cheese has foul-smelling poops. If you’re lactose-intolerant or have a milk protein allergy and you eat dairy products, your gut will not be able to absorb the food properly and cause your poops to smell worse than others. That smell may come out with a sulfur aroma to it, but it’s from the lactose—not the sulfur,” she adds.
How do you prevent sulfur-smelling poop?
Even though you now know of some high-sulfur foods to avoid, should you? Instead of cutting out a healthy serving of vegetables for the sake of neutralizing weird-smelling poop, Zeitlin suggests keeping a meal diary to see if there are certain foods that cause worse-smelling stools than others. “Every physical body is different and will respond differently to different foods, so figuring out what feels best for you and your body is crucial; a food diary will help nail this down,” she says.
However, if limiting seemingly problematic foods doesn't help, or you seem to have a sulfur food intolerance of some kind, Zeitlin says you should seek an evaluation from a medical professional—since, again, this could be a sign of bigger gut issues.
Other frequently asked questions about sulfur and poop
What causes diarrhea that smells like rotten eggs?
According to board-certified gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, MD, diarrhea that smells like rotten eggs can be indicative of malabsorption or an infection. “If there’s ongoing [smelly] diarrhea, this could mean your body is not properly absorbing or breaking down something (lactose/fructose/carbohydrate intolerance, pancreatic insufficiency), you have a GI condition (like IBD or celiac disease), or there’s an infection,” she explains. “Particularly smelly bugs are Giardia, a parasite, and Clostridium difficile (C. diff for short), which is a bacteria.”
What does it mean if your poop has a chemical smell?
While sulfur doesn’t smell particularly chemical, it technically is a chemical. Katie Silcox, MA, ayurvedic specialist and the founder of Shakti School, says that if you have weird-smelling poop—particularly if it smells chemical—it could be a clear indicator of a poor diet. “Have you been eating processed foods full of chemicals?” she asks. “If so, try cutting out those foods for a few days and seeing if the smell changes.”
Why does my poop smell like sweet sulfur?
Still contemplating what it means when your poop smells like sulfur? “A sulfur smell can indicate a lowered/weakened metabolic capacity and can be exacerbated by eating things like eggs, onions, beans, broccoli, asparagus, garlic, and cruciferous veggies without spices,” says Silcox.
Additionally, she shares that in Ayurvedic medicine, things that are sweet smelling or tasting can be indicative of a Kaphic imbalance. “This means too much heaviness,” Silcox explains. “Try lowering high-fat foods and reducing your fat/sweets intake. Healthy fats are great for us in moderate amounts, but if we have a weekend liver/gallbladder, too much fat can cause sluggish digestion and contribute to those weird smells.”
The good news is that there are some foods that reduce stool odor. “Try spicing your food up with ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, and black pepper to awaken the digestive process and help digest sulfuric foods,” Silcox suggests.
What does it mean if your poop has a strong smell?
If your poop is characterized by a particularly strong scent that seems to linger, Silcox says that it could be an indicator that your digestive system is inflamed. “It can also just be a sign that your digestion is a little overheated,” she adds. “Have you been eating a lot of hot spicy foods lately? What about alcohol? This is considered ‘fire water’ in traditional medicine. Try removing spicy, fried foods and alcohol for a few days and see if that shifts the smell.”
Another reason your poo may smell particularly strong? You’ve been constipated. “Constipation can mean going to the bathroom less often, having hard stools, or even feeling like everything didn’t come out,” Dr. Nazareth explains. “If poop is sitting in your colon for a longer time, it ferments further.” To avoid a constipation-related smelly situation, she says you can increase your water and fiber intake and get active. Doing so will help get things moving and less smelly.
Are foods high in sulfur bad for you?
Is sulfur bad for you? Nope, not at all. “Despite the smelly possibilities, sulfur-rich foods are incredibly nutritious and nothing to fear,” says Hadley. So long as you don't have a sulfur food intolerance or a gastrointestinal condition like IBS, where a sulfur-rich diet could worsen GI issues, eating sulfur-rich foods like cruciferous veggies and alliums can do everything from improve your cellular health to help fight off acne.
What does too much sulfur do to the body?
While there are many benefits to eating sulfur-rich foods, there are some symptoms of too much sulfur in the body to be aware of. “Excessive sulfur intake can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and indigestion,” says Hadley.
- Teigen, Levi M et al. “Dietary Factors in Sulfur Metabolism and Pathogenesis of Ulcerative Colitis.” Nutrients vol. 11,4 931. 25 Apr. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11040931
- Dong, Zhen et al. “Cumulative Consumption of Sulfur Amino Acids and Risk of Diabetes: A Prospective Cohort Study.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 152,11 (2022): 2419-2428. doi:10.1093/jn/nxac172
- Dong, Zhen et al. “Disease prevention and delayed aging by dietary sulfur amino acid restriction: translational implications.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences vol. 1418,1 (2018): 44-55. doi:10.1111/nyas.13584
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