Vitamin E is known primarily for protecting your cardiovascular system, but its benefits run far wider than you could imagine. Including foods high in vitamin E in your diet can give you benefits such as youthful-looking skin and healthier hair, improved brain function, a stronger immune system and many more.
Due largely to modern food processing, getting sufficient vitamin E from your diet can be a formidable task. Most oil-rich foods high in vitamin E undergo extensive processing to extend their shelf life, which destroys most of the vitamin E content. In wheat, for example, most of the vitamin E is found in the germ layer, which is often removed in making breads, baked goods and pastas. Processing the wheat removes much, if not all, of the wheat's vitamin E content.
Most cooking oils are highly refined to reduce their tendency to spoil. This also strips most of the vitamin E content away and makes vegetable and nut oils an unreliable source. Ironically, the extracted portion of the oils are sold to vitamin manufacturers, who use it to make vitamin E supplements!
Foods rich in vitamin E include unrefined sunflower, safflower and peanut oils. These are not the clear oils that you mostly see in the main supermarket aisles; they are usually found in the natural foods section. They tend to be darker in color and have a much stronger taste than refined varieties. Make sure they come in a dark bottle or opaque container — oils spoil more readily when they're exposed to light and air.
An important reason to avoid most of the common vegetable oils on the grocery shelf is that they're extracted from genetically-modified crops, particularly soy, canola and corn. The food industry does not want you to know this, so there will be no indication on the label about their source. Unless you see the USDA organic seal, assume that you're getting genetically-modified ingredients. You want to avoid these oils at all costs. See my page Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe? to learn more about the health hazards of GM crops.
In general, vegetables oils, even unrefined varieties, are not a good way to get your vitamin E requirements. Modern diets already have an overabundance of unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, and not enough omega 3 fats from foods such as fish, hemp seeds and flax seeds.
It's better to eat the whole foods that these oils are extracted from: sunflower seeds, almonds and other nuts. If you do use vegetable oils, buy them in small containers and keep them tightly capped to avoid unnecessary exposure to air. Oils go rancid very easily and should not be stored for long periods of time for that reason.
See my article on The Best Oils for Cooking to discover more about the purchase and use of edible oils.
Among the foods especially rich in vitamin E are mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, and sunflower seeds. Other foods high in vitamin E are almonds and spinach. Less-optimal sources of vitamin E include collard greens, parsley, kale, papaya, olives, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, blueberries, and broccoli.
However, very few vitamin E foods contain enough to guarantee that you get even the minimum government RDA of 30IU (International Units). Note that in the following list of foods high in vitamin E, none of them contains anywhere near the amount found in a typical vitamin E supplement, usually about 400IU.
As you can see, it's difficult to get enough vitamin E just by consuming foods high in vitamin E. For example, you'd have to eat over 2 pounds of almonds to get as much vitamin E as there is in one 400IU capsule, a dose that's typically used to assess potential benefits of vitamin E. Smaller amounts really aren't going to give you all the benefits.
If you choose to go
with vitamin E supplements,
don't just buy the cheapest variety;
there's a big difference in
quality and effectiveness.
Make sure that you get one with natural, mixed tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherols) and no soy oil, which is added sometimes as a filler. Cheaper drug-store varieties usually contain only dl-alpha tocopherol, one component of the complete vitamin complex, and an artificial version at that. The "dl-" prefix tells you that it's artificially-made. A natural source will just have the prefix, "d-". Check the label carefully before you buy.
More information on Vitamin E Supplements
Learn more about the Benefits of Vitamin E
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