Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vitamin E is Key

Even though we usually imagine vitamin E as a translucent gel cap filled with oil, like the ones pictured in the photo, vitamin E is not one singular, uniform substance. It is actually made up of a group of compounds known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. While those terms are a mouthful, all you need to know is that it's good for you - and here's why.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and potent antioxidant that helps protect our cells from being damaged by free radicals. Working in concert with vitamin C, glutathione, selenium, and niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin E helps prevent the damage that can be caused by oxidative stress in our bodies that is associated with aging. Additionally, vitamin E has been implicated in helping prevent bladder cancer, prostate cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Another popularly stated function of vitamin E is the protection of our skin cells from UV damage. Many people believe that it's a good idea to take vitamin E supplements while on holiday in sunny places, but this is not necessary. Supplements contain unnaturally high doses of single nutrients, which are valid and useful in some cases, but dangerous in others. Supplements are useful when it can be difficult to obtain those nutrients through dietary means (Vitamin D, iron, folate), but vitamin E isn't one of those.

There are plenty of rich sources of this antioxidant vitamin all around you. Certain dark leafy greens like mustard greens, Swiss chard, and turnip greens are excellent sources of vitamin E, while spinach is considered a good source. Since vitamin E is fat soluble, you'll find it in fat-containing foods, especially oils. For example, just 1 ounce of sunflower seeds (164 calories) will provide you with 47% of your daily requirement, and an ounce of almonds (about 22 almonds, 167 calories) will provide you with 36% of your daily requirement. You won't have any difficulty making up the difference if you throw in some whole grains, papaya, mangoes, avocados and blueberries into the mix!

It's pretty fitting that vitamin E is associated with being out in the sunshine, because a spinach salad with blueberries, avocados, sunflower seeds, almonds, mango and papaya definitely screams summer to me!