The Gotta-Have-It Vitamin Experts Say You're Not Getting Enough Of

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sunflower-seeds-01Sure, there will always be some new, you-need-this-to-stay-healthy nutritional superstar popping up, but what about those reliable health staples — the ones that aren't in the wellness spotlight? Just because there's a shiny, new nutrient everyone is fawning over doesn't mean you can ignore the old faithfuls. The perfect example: vitamin E.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells against free radical damage and prevents LDL cholesterol [the bad kind] from being oxidized,” explains Brooke Alpert, R.D., founder of B Nutritious in New York City and author of The Sugar Detox (out next month). “It’s an essential nutrient, meaning the body doesn't make it and it's needed in the diet — it’s required for the structural and functional maintenance of muscles, including skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle. It may also have preventable benefits against damage to the eyes, Alzheimer’s disease, and even some cancers.”

But, we’re not all getting enough of this essential vitamin. According to the USDA, it’s estimated that approximately 96 percent of women and 90 percent of men do not consume the estimated average requirement of 12 mg of alpha-tocopherol — a.k.a. vitamin E — daily.

According to Maret G. Traber, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Biological & Population Health Science at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, this E deficiency might be caused by a couple of factors: It can be difficult to get the max from food alone, plus, overdosing on the vitamin from supplements was traditionally deemed a major issue. However, recent research by Traber and her colleagues at Oregon State University concludes that contrary to the belief that supplementing of vitamin E needs to be closely monitored, an overdose is not likely. “Others have not studied the mechanisms for why high intake from supplements might give adverse consequences,” explains Traber. “We looked specifically for dangers of vitamin E and gave rats extraordinarily high amounts and could not document any adverse consequences, with the exception of altered vitamin K amounts.”

Alpert says that despite the 90-something percent deficient number noted by the USDA, she finds that among her clients, a vitamin E deficiency is quite rare. “However, people who can’t absorb dietary fat due to pre-existing genetic conditions — such as abetalipoproteinemia or Crohn’s disease — or who have any fat-metabolism disorders will often have problems absorbing vitamin E,” she says.

While Alpert agrees that it is very difficult to overdose on vitamin E, she notes that vitamin E in very high doses can cause problems with blood clotting which may be a risk to someone who is on blood thinners. For adults, the recommended dietary allowance is around 15 mg (compared to the 12 mg estimated average requirements), which is approximately the equivalent of a 1/2-cup of almonds. However, the upper tolerable intake is currently at 300 mg daily, says Alpert. And, because vitamin E is fat soluble, you’ll boost absorption if you pop a supplement when eating healthy fats (i.e. a salad with olive oil or avocado, etc.).

So, what are the best foods to get your E from? “Vitamin E is present in high amounts in almonds and sunflower seeds, and moderate levels are in olive oil, spinach, and avocados. Fortified breakfast cereal is also a good source,” says Traber. However, because it can be difficult to reach the daily requirement — especially if you tend to eat a low-fat diet (other than leafy greens, the main sources are nuts and seeds) — she says that in addition to eating E-laced foods, all you have to do is pop a standard multi-vitamin to get your daily antioxidant dose.

Photo: Courtesy of PACHD