assorted unshelled nuts

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that occurs naturally in many foods. It's also available as a dietary supplement and is sometimes added to processed foods. Collectively, the term vitamin E describes eight different compounds, of which only one, alpha-tocopherol, is beneficial for humans. It's a fat-soluble vitamin, which means your body stores this nutrient and uses it as needed.

You've probably seen rust on your bike or car. A similar process of oxidation and accelerated aging takes place in your body when cells are exposed to molecules called free radicals. Free radicals in your body weaken and break down healthy cells and may contribute to heart disease and cancer. These molecules form as a result of normal body processes but cause damage that shortens the life of your cells. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and helps reduce free radical damage, slowing the aging process of your cells.

Because of its strong antioxidant properties, research has investigated the use of vitamin E as treatment for a variety of degenerative diseases including hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Unfortunately, those studies have failed to find a reduction in the incidence of those conditions.

However, vitamin E is recommended for people who have higher environmental or lifestyle risk factors. Cigarette smoking, air pollution, and high exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight increase free radical production and require a higher intake of antioxidants like vitamin E. It's difficult to get too much vitamin E from your regular diet, but if you're using supplements, dosages should not exceed 1,000 mg per day. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for ages 14 and up is 15 mg. You may also see international units (IU's) on the label, which is a measure of biological activity instead of quantity.

Two types of vitamin E are sold as supplements: the natural form, d-alpha-tocopherol, and the synthetic form, dl-alpha-tocopherol. The natural form is slightly more biologically active so the recommended daily allowance is lower. You'll need to check the label to find out if it's the natural or synthetic form for the appropriate dosage. The natural form RDA is 22.4 IU's and the synthetic form RDA is 33.3 IU's.

Natural sources of vitamin E include, but are not limited to, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Here are some examples of vitamin E content in common foods:

 

Dry roasted sunflower seeds, 1 ounce = 7.4 mg Vitamin E
Dry roasted hazelnuts, 1 ounce = 4.3 mg Vitamin E
Dry roasted peanuts, 1 ounce = 2.2 mg Vitamin E
Dry roasted almonds, 1 ounce = 6.8 mg Vitamin E
Spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup = 1.9 mg Vitamin E
Broccoli, chopped and boiled, 1/2 cup = 1.2 mg Vitamin E
Kiwifruit, 1 medium-sized = 1.1 mg Vitamin E
Mango, sliced, 1/2 cup = 0.7 mg Vitamin E
Tomato, raw, 1 medium-sized = 0.7 mg Vitamin E

If you're looking for an easy way to guarantee enough of this vitamin in your diet, adding a tablespoon of wheat germ oil to a recipe or snacking on a handful of sunflower seeds will provide over 20 mg of natural vitamin E, more than a full day's requirement. The next time you prepare a salad, use kale or spinach and toss in some slivered almonds or hazelnuts for a crunchy boost of vitamin E. Sprinkle wheat germ on salad, yogurt, and soup.