Sulphur is involved in hundreds of essential chemical reactions in the body that create optimal health, including: Supporting energy production (through mitochondria action); Removing toxins from cells; and Creating proteins and connective tissue necessary for joint, skin, and blood vessel health.
So how powerful is sulphur? Well, it is one of the key nutrients that Dr Terry Wahls’ focussed on to transform her health which she shared via her TED talk. Dr Wahls’ story is a powerful example of the connection between nutrition, health and disease. She regained her health after being completely immobilised in a lying wheelchair suffering from Multiple Sclerosis – which is a debilitating disease of the nervous system. Watch her remarkable story in her TED talk, here.
Dr Wahls describes how she saw the best medical specialists from the top institutions like the Mayo Clinic in the US but even with all the latest drugs and therapies, she found (in her case) that her symptoms were getting worse. Dr Wahls then turned to nutrition and complementary therapies to see what effect they could have on her worsening condition. She describes how she began asking health questions at the most basic level of life – the cell. This led her into the world of the mitochondria – our cells energy producers. The outcome of her research was a list of supplements that were ‘suggested’ to optimise mitochondrial function. She credits these supplements for slowing the MS progression down and ultimately reversing it. But Dr Wahls was not satisfied and didn’t stop there and instead asked a fundamental question most nutritionists would agree to – could we get these nutrients from food? Her further research said yes and she developed a dietary plan called ‘The Wahls Diet’.
The end-result of her diet looked very different from the conventional USDA Pyramid (US Dietary Association), starting from the base up. The Wahls Diet recommends removing many common foods she believed could be increasing her inflammation like refined sugar, gluten, dairy, vegetable oils and even eggs. Then she replaced these foods with ones she considered were the most nutrient-dense and potentially creating low inflammation. Now vegetables took up the prime base of the pyramid, with a daily recommendation of three cups of leafy greens, three cups of ‘colours’ and three cups of sulfur-rich foods.
Two sulphur-rich vegetable groups are: 1) Alliums, which include garlic, onions, shallots, leeks; and 2) Cruciferous, or Brassica vegetables, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Bok Choy.
Studies supporting the Health Benefits of Sulphur Foods
A 2015 meta-analysis found that intake of allium vegetables, including onions, were associated with reduced gastric cancer risk.
A 2006 study of southern European populations showed an inverse association between the frequency of use of allium vegetables and the risk of several common cancers.
According to an article in Nutrition and Cancer (2001) titled ‘Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention’, “Results clearly point toward a positive correlation between cancer prevention of many target organs and consumption of cruciferous vegetables or their active constituents.”
Two High Sulphur Thai Favourites
Garlic is a Thai favourite and contains high concentrations of sulfur compounds and allicin, which acts as an antimicrobial and can help support your immune system fighting off both bacterial and viral infections. Garlic has many studies also promoting blood vessel health which could support brain function and can help prevent or reduce cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.
Bok Choy. This high sulphur and nutritional powerhouse commonly found in Thailand is part of the cruciferous family. Bok Choy is ranked 5th by Dr Joel Fuhrman on his ANDY list, which is a measure of nutrients density over calories. Since many overweight people are nutrient deficient today – foods like Bok Choy that are high in fibre, vitamins (like Vitamin C), and minerals (like calcium) can be very valuable to feeling full and satisfied and reducing risks of overeating.
Preparing and Cooking Sulphur foods
Try to not overcook sulphur foods as it reduces their health properties – raw is often better or being lightly steamed or a quick stir-fry. Perhaps make a salad dressing with raw garlic, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Thyroid Issues and Cruciferous Vegetables
A word of warning for those with thyroid issues. While cruciferous vegetables are incredibly healthy vegetables, some studies have suggested potential issues of consuming high amounts of cruciferous vegetables for people with thyroid issues (and having low iodine). So caution may be warranted and talk to your health-care provider. But it is another reason to ensure you are consuming adequate iodine-rich foods alongside cruciferous vegetables like seaweed, and seafood.
The Thai kitchen is full of high sulphur foods, like Thai Green Curry, with garlic, onions, and adding mushrooms along with stir-fried mixed vegetables with broccoli and bok choy. See how you go with three cups or more per day for better health.
Craig Burton (BSc, NASM, CISSN) is a practicing Clinical and Sports Nutritionist with over 20 years’ experience as a health practitioner. He holds an array of qualifications in nutrition, as well as in health, fitness, mental and lifestyle coaching. For those interested in learning about how to naturally reduce inflammation please check out his free course at craigburtoncoaching.com