The mineral sulfur is an essential component of your diet. It plays a role in the formation of connective tissue and maintaining the health of your joints. Sulfur compounds also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to protect your cells from harmful free-radical molecules. However, sulfur-containing foods or associated derivatives can cause gastrointestinal disturbances in people with sulfite sensitivity or digestive diseases such as ulcerative colitis. A low-sulfur diet can help reduce symptom occurrence and duration.
Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease impacting the large intestine, or colon. The colon houses trillions of bacteria that generally protect your digestive system from bad bacteria and disease. In people with ulcerative colitis, the bacteria do not flourish as much, and high intake of sulfur-containing compounds can worsen existing colon inflammation or reduce the count of protective bacteria in the colon. Sensitivity to sulfites, which are sulfur-based compounds used as flavor enhancers or preservatives for some processed foods, can also increase digestive disturbances or cause allergic reactions, notes the Cleveland Clinic.
Squash varieties -- including yellow, acorn, butternut, winter and summer -- are low-sulfur options. Zucchini, yams, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, corn, carrots and artichoke also contain little sulfur. Herbs or spices to flavor your vegetables, such as caraway seeds, parsley, thyme, marjoram and basil, are low in sulfur, but garlic and onions are high in sulfur. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and greens are also high in sulfur compounds.
Cantaloupe, watermelon, casaba and honeydew melon are low-sulfur fruit options. Citrus fruits such as grapefruit and fresh lemons or limes also have little sulfur. Choose fresh kiwi, mangoes, figs and dates or raw apples, plums and pears for low-sulfur fruits. Check the nutrition labels of canned and frozen fruits because they might contain sulfites. Low-sulfur natural sweeteners such as honey, brown sugar or cinnamon are options to add to your fruits for flavor instead of choosing processed fruits.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, and foods with the amino acid cysteine have high sulfur contents. Most meats contain some sulfur, but red meats have the highest content. Low-sulfur proteins include dark meat chicken, mackerel, mahi mahi, salmon, shrimp, pork and turkey. Bean varieties are also a good low-sulfur source of protein. Dairy is high in sulfur, but dairy is an important source of calcium, so discuss inclusion of dairy in your diet with your physician for recommendations.
Read nutrition labels on processed foods because these might contain sulfites. Sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite or sodium bisulfite on the ingredients list of packaged foods indicates the presence of sulfites. Jams, potato chips, condiments and canned and frozen foods generally have sulfite additives. Fermented alcohol beverages such as wine, beer and liquor typically contain sulfites.
- Northwest Naturopathic Urology: Sulfur-Rich Foods and Ulcerative Colitis
- LivingNetwork.co: Low Sulfur Food List
- Nutrition Journal: Associations Between Diet and Disease Activity in Ulcerative Colitis Patients Using a Novel Method of Data Analysis
- Cleveland Clinic: Special Diets for Food Allergies
- Alternative Medicine Review: Sulfur in Human Nutrition and Applications in Medicine
- Linus Pauling Institute: Cruciferous Vegetables
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.