Vitamin E may be a star of the supplement aisle, but food is where this nutrient truly shines. After almost a century of research, there is still much to be discovered, but we do know the vitamin is more effective from food sources, further reiterating that a pill isn’t always the answer to a healthy lifestyle.
What It Is. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that occurs naturally in eight different forms. Each form can be found in foods but only one—alpha-tocopherol, found in some plant foods and their oils—can be absorbed and utilized by the body.
What It Does. Vitamin E functions primarily as an antioxidant, which may help prevent or delay the diseases associated with cell damage and aging. Hopes were high during early studies on vitamin E and its function as an antioxidant, but there is not enough evidence to say that it can help prevent cancer, heart disease, or dementia. However, the vitamin is important for maintaining a strong and healthy immune system; it helps fight viruses and bacterial infections. Vitamin E also helps maintain healthy eyesight. In conjunction with other antioxidants, like zinc, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, vitamin E helps prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in individuals over 55 in the U.S. Vitamin E also has been linked to healthy skin, the production of red blood cells, and the body’s ability to use vitamin K.
How Much You Need. Males and females over age 18 need 15 milligrams of vitamin E a day. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most of the population falls short of meeting their vitamin E needs; an estimated 90 percent of Americans do not get enough.
Where You Find It. Natural sources with the highest amounts of alpha-tocopherol include wheat germ, nuts and seeds (particularly sunflower seeds and almonds), and vegetable oils, such as wheat germ and sunflower oils. Other good sources include spinach, asparagus, and avocado. Common vitamin E-fortified foods include cereals, fruit juices, and margarines, but the synthetic form of the vitamin found in fortified foods is not as effective as the natural form.
—Esther Ellis, MS, RD