Vitamin E

See also "Vitamin E: One Main Mission " in this chapter.

What it does:

  • Works as an antioxidant, preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and perhaps lowering the risk for heart disease and stroke. Its antioxidant activity also may help reduce the risk of other health problems, such as some types of cancer.
  • As an antioxidant, protects essential fatty acids and vitamin A. See "Antioxidant Vitamins: A Closer Look " later in this chapter.

If you don't get enough: Many Americans consume enough vitamin E, yet it's still a nutrient of concern, according to the Dietary Guidelines, 2005. Two more exceptions are premature, very-low-birthweight infants and people with poor fat absorption, cystic fibrosis, or some other chronic health problems. In these cases, the nervous system can be affected. Because vegetable oils are good sources of vitamin E, people who cut back on total fat may not get enough. Vitamin E-fortified cereal may be a good choice.

Ifyou consume excess amounts: Eating plenty of vitamin E-rich foods doesn't appear problematic. However, taking large doses of vitamin E as a supplement hasn't been shown conclusively to have benefits—and isn't recommended. Too much may increase the risk of bleeding, may impair vitamin K action, and may increase the effect of anticoagulant medication.

That's why a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) has been set: 800 milligrams daily for teens ages fourteen to eighteen; 1,000 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol daily for adults ages nineteen and over. If you take a supplement, 1,000 milligrams equal about 1,500 IU of natural vitamin E or 1,100 IU of dl-alpha-tocopherol synthetic vitamin E.

How much you need: The RDA guideline for males and females age fourteen and over is 15 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol each day. Children need less, depending on their age. During pregnancy, women still need 15 milligrams daily; during breast-feeding the recommendation goes up to 19 milligrams daily.

Note: Vitamin E is a group of substances called toco-pherols with different potencies. Alpha-tocopherol is its most potent form. On food and supplement labels, the amount is given in International Units (IU) of alpha-tocopherol, not in milligrams.

To make the conversion, 15 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol (the RDA for adults) equal:

  • About 22 IU of d-alpha-tocopherol ("natural" vitamin E in some supplements)
  • About 33 IU of dl-alpha-tocopherol (a synthetic form in fortified foods and some supplements)

The "natural" form of vitamin E is more fully used than the synthetic form. That's why there's a difference in the conversion factor.

Where it's mostly found: The best sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils—for example, soybean, corn, cottonseed, and safflower. That includes margarine, salad dressing, and other foods made from oil. Nuts (especially almonds and hazelnuts), seeds (especially sunflower seeds), and wheat germ—all high in oil—are good sources, too, as are some fortified breakfast cereals. Green, leafy vegetables provide smaller amounts.

Vitamin E (mg Food alpha-tocopherol)

Sunflower seeds (1 oz.) 11

Soy beverage (1 cup) 3

Peanut butter (2 tbsp.) 3

Turnip greens, cooked (1/2 cup) 1

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