We know we need our proteins, omegas, fibers, and antioxidants, and we know where to get them (a smoothie with kale, almond butter, blueberries, and chia seeds, thank you very much!). But there’s one mineral that, although it rarely gets talked about, is absolutely essential for optimal digestion, bright skin, and an all-around healthy body. And that mineral is sulfur.
While this all-important mineral doesn’t sound quite as sexy as the usual superfood suspects—you probably won’t be adding it to the aforementioned smoothie anytime soon—it’s definitely just as powerful, if not more so. And the more you know about sulfur’s copious body benefits, the more you’ll want to make incorporating it into your diet a priority (don’t worry—it’s easy and tasty, promise).
Sulfur is in fact one of the most abundant minerals present in the human body. It’s involved with hundreds of physiological processes and metabolic reactions, from protein synthesis to cellular respiration; life simply couldn’t go on without it. While a degree in biochemistry helps when it comes to intimately understanding sulfur and its many activities, here are some of its key functions:
Sulfur is a crucial part of phase II liver detoxification. It also supports the kidneys in cleansing the blood and assists in the elimination of heavy metals and free radicals.
You know how amino acids are the building blocks of your body? You can think of sulfur as the building block of amino acids.
Healthy muscles, joints, and skin
Disulfide bonds are the basis for flexible connective tissues. Want to stay limber and avoid joint pain and stiffness? Sulfur should be your go-to.
Sulfur is essential to the synthesis of glutathione, an extremely powerful antioxidant that protects your cells from free radical damage, staves off disease, nourishes your brain, and boosts your immunity.
Your mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells, and it’s their job to convert the food you eat into usable energy. You couldn’t do much without them, and they need sulfur to thrive.
Sulfur is needed for the production of neurotransmitters, as well as taurine, an amino acid that is implicated in nervous system function. (Taurine is also important for heart health and digestion, FYI.)
Not only is sulfur an anti-inflammatory, but sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates may have anti-cancer properties.
Sulfur is required for the production of collagen and keratin, two substances that contribute to shinier, longer hair; brighter, more even skin; and stronger nails.
Where to get it:
While sulfur-rich amino acids can be found in animal-based products like eggs and meat, look to plants to get must-have organosulfur compounds, which studies have shown may have the power to reduce oxidative stress, improve glucose tolerance, fight disease, and more.
Ready to bump up your sulfur intake? Consider cruciferous vegetables and alliums your BFFs. Cruciferous veggies include kale, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli—you probably have at least one favorite in there. Alliums—including garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives—are another great category of foods to rely on for your sulfur fix. Bonus: By eating these foods, you’ll also be getting all the other vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber for which we’ve come to know and love plants. Win.
Pro tip: Overcooking cruciferous veggies makes their organosulfur compounds less potent. There’s nothing quite like a batch of roasted, caramelized Brussels sprouts—and you’ll still reap the benefits when you prepare and enjoy them this way—but to get maximum sulfur bang for your buck, stick to lightly steaming your veggies, and try to let them sit for a few minutes after slicing. This gives the enzyme myrosinase some time to get busy maximizing the bioavailability of the sulfur.