Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily
Studies have found that vitamin E supplements are not worth the hype and might actually cause you harm if you have preexisting conditions. Still, vitamin E is an antioxidant that you should include as a part of a balanced diet. Here are foods to consider.
Sources of Vitamin E
When it comes to food sources, small amounts of vitamin E from several sources usually meet the daily requirement, rather than all from one source. These sources include oils, nuts, and seeds.
“I want you to think back a few years ago, when fat-free diets were the vogue,” Professor Anding said. “So if you followed that craze, if you were one of the people jumping on that bandwagon, you could have actually induced a vitamin E deficiency because you removed all your natural sources.”
To be specific, you can get your vitamin E from wheat germ oil, fortified breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, safflower oil, and hazelnuts. Keep in mind that if you’re trying to keep your caloric intake within a certain range, you have to control portion sizes. A serving size of almonds is anywhere between 10 and 14 almonds—not half a cup.
Cooking and Processing
Food storage can actually affect the vitamin E requirement. Safflower oil that’s stored for up to three months can lose up to 55% of its vitamin E content. Thus, a strategy in this case would be to keep the oil in your refrigerator.
Roasting almonds can reduce the vitamin E content by 80%, and this is where some of the raw food movement comes in. Peanuts can lose up to a third of their vitamin E through frying.
Keep in mind that dietary analysis programs—or if you’re looking up the vitamin E content of a source in a book—only list the amount of vitamins in the original food and not after it’s altered or affected by storage and processing.
Form and Requirements
When it comes to dietary requirements for vitamin E, form matters. Vitamin E belongs to a family of eight compounds known as tocopherols, and many studies in the 1990s that highlighted the benefits of vitamin E did not control for the type of vitamin E. The most common form of vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol.
The higher your polyunsaturated fat intake, the more vitamin E you need to protect against rancidity. This is because polyunsaturated fat has many double bonds, making it vulnerable to oxidation.
The requirement for adults is in the range of 15 milligrams, and 19 milligrams for breastfeeding women. Some supplement labels list the vitamin in International Units rather than milligrams.
If vitamin E is from natural sources, one IU (International Unit) is equivalent to 0.67 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol. If it’s in a synthetic form and therefore less effective, one IU equals 0.45 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol.
Deficiency and Excess
Vitamin E deficiency is so rare that the Food and Nutrition Board couldn’t use signs of deficiencies to set requirements. It typically only occurs in individuals with significant fat malabsorption or genetic disorders. In adults, a deficiency may take up to 5 to 10 years to develop because it’s a fat-soluble stored vitamin.
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E is relatively nontoxic. However, if you regularly take large amounts of vitamin E—greater than 400 International Units—it may interfere with blood clotting, particularly if you’re taking it with anticoagulants or aspirin.
A recent analysis of 19 studies suggests that for those with chronic disease, including but not limited to heart disease, taking 400 International Units may increase mortality. Vitamin E has also been recently linked with an increased risk of heart defects in the fetus of pregnant women.
Overall, while it is important to get vitamin E from a balanced diet, including a variety of healthy fats, it is unnecessary for most healthy adults to take vitamin E supplements. Claims made in the 1990s about the benefits of vitamin E—including the prevention of heart disease—have been largely disproven. As the stock in vitamin E is falling, the role of vitamin D is expanding in human nutrition, but Professor Anding offers a word of caution.
“If history has a way of repeating itself, we have to look at this with a critical eye and think, will we be in the same position years from now with vitamin D and now replacing vitamin D with the new vitamin de jour?” Professor Anding said. “What will be the new popular supplementation?”
We’ll delve into vitamin D in tomorrow’s article.
This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.