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Name: Joanne
Status: educator
Grade: 4-5
Location:  GA
Country: N/A
Date: October 2006

Question:
I can find information on high sulfur foods, but what foods are very low, or have no sulfur in them?



Replies:
First off, let's eliminate any foods that have sulfur added as a preservative. This is usually indicated on the label; it will say something like "contains sulfites" (in wine, for example), or there will be an ingredient listed that has some form of sulfur in its name.

Now let's look at what's in a typical cell, since foods are often made from all or part of a cell. Aside from water, oxygen, etc., there are four major types of molecules in cells: nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Which ones contain sulfur?

Nucleic acids are represented by DNA and RNA. They are made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. No sulfur there, but then there aren't any foods that are pure DNA or RNA.

Lipids are fats and oils. The membranes of cells are made of lipids. Lipids generally have carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. I can't think of an example that has sulfur. So corn oil, for example, should be low in sulfur.

Carbohydrates are sugars and starches. They only contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. No sulfur.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids that are combined to make proteins, much like 26 letters combine to make words and sentences. One of these amino acids, cysteine, contains an atom of sulfur. So, most anything containing protein will contain at least a little sulfur.

So the bottom line is that you should look at foods that do not contain protein. In particular, anything that is purely carbohydrate, such as soda, will not contain sulfur (unless it's added as a preservative). Starchy foods, such as pasta and potatos, should contain little or no sulfur, since they are mostly carbohydrate. Any sulfur in them would be in the tiny amount of protein that may be present.

Paul Mahoney, PhD



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