8 Foods containing the highest quantity of glutathione

Glutathione, often called the “master antioxidant,” is a powerhouse molecule your body naturally produces. It is crucial in protecting cells from damage, detoxifying harmful substances, and boosting the immune system. 

Despite the critical functions of glutathione, many people must know how to maintain or increase its levels through diet.

Certain foods are essential for your body to produce and maintain adequate glutathione levels. These foods provide the building blocks needed for synthesis or contain compounds that naturally boost the production of glutathione.

What is glutathione? 

Glutathione is a protein composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamine, and glycine. It is critical in protecting cellular macromolecules from reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. 

While it combats free radicals, it directly deals with mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) [1]. Both POPs and mercury cause oxidative stress. 

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and antioxidant defenses [2]. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) refer to the following [3]: 

  • Superoxide radicals
  • Hydrogen peroxide 
  • Hydroxyl radicals
  • Oxygen 

These ROS are generated as by-products of metabolism in biological systems. Biological processes such as cell death, immunity, and protein metabolism depend on appropriate amounts of ROS in the cells [3].

ROS levels must be low since any increase can damage cellular structures such as nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins [4]. When present at appropriate levels, ROS has many beneficial roles. They synthesize cellular structures needed to fight infections. 

White blood cells called phagocytes produce and store free radicals. Once pathogens are present, phagocytes release free radicals to help destroy pathogenic microorganisms [5]. 

A large body of evidence [6] shows that oxidative stress can lead to the progression of several chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic disorders, diabetes, and cancer. 

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Which food has the highest glutathione?

Boosting your glutathione levels through diet is a practical approach to enhancing this crucial antioxidant. A variety of foods rich in specific nutrients can help stimulate the body’s natural production of glutathione. 

Let’s see which foods are beneficial and how they increase your glutathione levels.

1. Almonds

Almonds are often referred to as nuts. However, they are teardrop seeds in shape and fruits of the almond tree. The almond tree is native to Iran and other countries in the Mediterranean region. Historically, the cultivation of almond trees dates back to as early as 3000 BC. 

The edible parts of almonds are called drupes, which are the seeds of the almond fruit. The fruit has an outer shell and layers of an unedible hull. 

Almonds are excellent sources of vitamin E, fiber, biotin, monounsaturated fats, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and trace minerals such as copper, phytonutrients, plant sterols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. 

There is growing evidence that almonds can increase glutathione levels. One study [7] showed that consuming 83 g/d of almonds increases glutathione levels among smokers by 16%, while their DNA damage decreases by 29%. 

almonds

2. Turmeric

Turmeric is a vibrant yellow herb. It is often used as a yellow spice in famous Indian cuisine. Turmeric is rich in polyphenols, with curcumin being the most abundant.

One animal study [8] reported that curcumin increased glutathione levels in rat liver cells exposed to cytotoxic compounds. This demonstrated curcumin’s cytoprotective properties in cells attacked by toxins. It would appear from the study that curcumin from turmeric conjugates with glutathione, thereby increasing the level of glutathione in the cells. 

In another study [9], curcumin induced glutathione biosynthesis in alveolar epithelial cells (cells in the lungs). These findings add evidence to curcumin’s ability to increase glutathione levels and protect cells from further oxidative stress and damage. 

3. Baru almonds 

Baru almonds come from the Baru tree, a native plant species in Brazil. The almonds are dark brown seeds of the fruits of the tree.

More than half, or 51%, of the composition of Baru almonds is made up of monounsaturated fatty acids, while 31% comprises polyunsaturated fatty acids. The rest of the almonds comprise carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamin E, calcium, phytates, iron, zinc, and tannins [10]. 

In an animal study [11], 10% of rats’ diets were made up of Baru almonds. At the end of the study, oxidative stress was significantly reduced.

In a randomized clinical trial that recruited obese and overweight women [12], the experimental group ate 20g of Baru almonds each day for eight weeks as part of their diet. Results of the trial revealed increased glutathione peroxidase activity in women who were obese and overweight. 
The positive effects in the clinical trial [12] were attributed to the selenium levels in Baru almonds. Selenium is needed to increase glutathione peroxidase activity. Glutathione peroxidase protects cells and tissues from oxidative damage.

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4. Milk thistle

The milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum) has three active compounds: silibinin, silicristin, and silibinin. These three compounds are collectively called silymarin. 

Animal studies [13], [14] demonstrate how silymarin increased glutathione levels in laboratory cells and rats. This reduced oxidative stress and prevented cellular damage. 

5. Avocado

Avocado is a popular fruit that has also been found to increase glutathione levels in cells. An animal study [15] demonstrated how avocado oil increased glutathione levels and reduced lipid peroxidation and the production of ROS in diabetic rats. 

This showed that avocados could increase glutathione levels and reduce cellular damage in the long term. Notably, the study was conducted for 12 months, which is relatively long.  

6. Okra

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a green vegetable widely cultivated in subtropical and tropical areas. A laboratory study [16] revealed that okra seeds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The seeds increase glutathione peroxidase levels and superoxide dismutase, which are essential in improving okra’s antioxidant properties. 

7. Green asparagus 

Green asparagus spears are rich in phytochemicals and are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a rich source of glutathione and can be used to increase glutathione levels in the body [17].

However, there are concerns about whether high heat during cooking can destroy the glutathione content of asparagus. A study [17] revealed that prolonged cooking of asparagus could decrease glutathione concentrations.

Dry heat cooking, such as pan-frying, baking, and grilling, reduces glutathione levels in green asparagus [17]. If you want to retain glutathione levels in asparagus, it is best to cook asparagus quickly.

Reducing cooking time can maintain asparagus’s benefits. However, dry cooking did not appear to affect its antioxidant properties. 

8. Broccoli

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. Italica) is a vegetable grown in areas with cool temperature weather. An animal study [18] demonstrated that broccoli could increase glutathione synthesis in the liver, resulting in increased antioxidant activities in the liver.

However, clinical trials are needed to determine if broccoli can also increase glutathione synthesis in the human liver.

It is also necessary to examine if cooking or boiling broccoli can reduce its ability to increase the hepatic synthesis of glutathione. The method and duration of cooking could affect the antioxidant properties of vegetables such as broccoli.

What is the importance of glutathione in the body?

Glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant, offers a broad spectrum of health benefits that can transform how you manage your health. Often overshadowed by more common supplements, glutathione is crucial in maintaining your body’s balance and resilience against various stresses.

1. Shield against free radicals

Glutathione is your body’s natural shield against the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, leading to various health issues, including aging and chronic diseases.

2. Strengthens the immune system

Glutathione plays a pivotal role in the immune system. It influences the growth and function of immune cells, particularly lymphocytes, which are essential for responding to infections and illnesses. Adequate levels of glutathione mean a well-supported, robust immune system ready to fight off invaders.

3. Cellular health and repair

Glutathione supports the repair and regeneration of damaged cells. It aids in maintaining healthy cell membranes and DNA integrity, contributing to tissue repair and overall vitality.

4. Prevents chronic diseases

Research suggests that low levels of glutathione are associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions. A diet rich in glutathione may help mitigate these risks.

5. Promotes skin health and beauty

Radiant skin often begins from within. Glutathione is known for its potential to promote skin health by reducing oxidative stress and supporting collagen production, which can result in a more youthful appearance.

What are the factors that affect glutathione?

Maintaining healthy glutathione levels is essential for optimal health, but various lifestyle and environmental factors can significantly reduce these levels. Understanding what depletes glutathione can help you take proactive steps to protect and boost this crucial antioxidant.

  • Poor nutrition: A diet lacking in glutathione-rich foods or the nutrients that aid its production, like selenium, vitamins C and E, and cysteine, can reduce levels.
  • Chronic stress: High stress levels can exhaust your body’s glutathione reserves as it attempts to counteract increased oxidative stress.
  • Pollution and toxins: Regular exposure to environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and pesticides can deplete glutathione as your body uses it to detoxify these harmful substances.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: High alcohol intake can burden your liver, using up glutathione stores needed to detoxify and leading to a decrease in antioxidant protection.
  • Lack of sleep: Not getting enough sleep can impair the body’s ability to produce and maintain optimal glutathione levels.
  • Aging: Natural aging processes reduce the body’s capacity to synthesize glutathione, leading to lower levels over time.

Addressing these factors through lifestyle changes can help maintain healthy glutathione levels and support overall wellness.

Closing thoughts

It should be noted that some vegetables contain naturally occurring glutathione. These include spinach, okra, asparagus and avocados [19]. 

However, storage conditions and cooking methods can decrease amounts of glutathione. Hence, it is important to cook these vegetables for a relatively short period to retain natural glutathione. 

The list of foods potentially increasing glutathione levels is not exhaustive. It is still necessary to examine which types of vegetables or fruits contain high amounts of glutathione. 

Additionally, the antioxidant effects of vegetables in clinical trials need to be discussed. Results could inform individuals about the type of vegetables with the highest glutathione levels. 

You should try incorporating these foods into your diet regularly. It could be as simple as adding garlic to your meals or having a handful of nuts as a snack. Each small step can lead to significant health benefits.

FAQs

FAQs

Which fruit has the highest glutathione?

Avocado is often cited as the fruit with the highest glutathione content. This powerful antioxidant helps detoxify the body and supports the immune system. Consuming avocados can help boost your glutathione levels naturally.

Which vegetables have the most glutathione?

Spinach, asparagus, and broccoli are among the vegetables with the highest glutathione content. They are also rich in other antioxidants and nutrients that support overall health.

Can you get enough glutathione from food?

While you can obtain glutathione from certain foods, it’s also synthesized in the body. A balanced diet rich in glutathione-containing foods and a healthy lifestyle can help maintain optimal glutathione levels.

Do you need to supplement glutathione?

Supplementation may not be necessary for everyone but can benefit individuals with specific health conditions or those exposed to high toxins. It’s best to consult a healthcare provider to determine if glutathione supplementation is right for your health needs.

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684116/ 
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10693912/ 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/ 
[4] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278584613000493?via%3Dihub 
[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1357272506002196?via%3Dihub 
[6] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.HYP.0000100443.09293.4F 
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18029489/ 
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2353930/ 
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15650394/ 
[10] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996912001925?via%3Dihub 
[11] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996911006272?via%3Dihub 
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723341/ 
[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20579862/ 
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20600218/ 
[15] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28214972/ 
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4632455/ 
[17] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614003636 
[18] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32825248/ 
[19] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/glutathione-uses-risks

Photograph: Danijela Maksimovic/Shutterstock
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