Aug 16, 2022 - Health

Most American diets need more Vitamin E

Illustration of the alphabet; a spotlight shines down on the space where “E” should be.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Nearly all of us aren't getting enough of a critical vitamin that supports vision, brain health and even developing fetuses — vitamin E.

The stunning stat: Around 90% of U.S. adults' diets don't contain adequate amounts of vitamin E, studies have shown.

Zoom in: Vitamin E's major function is as an antioxidant. It quietly protects our cells from the oxidative damage caused by chemicals that are formed naturally when we convert food to energy.

  • The consequences of oxidative damage — unchecked by vitamin E — include accelerated aging, deterioration of vision and higher risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
  • "Vitamin E is kind of like having a fire department," says Maret Traber, a nutritionist at Oregon State’s Linus Pauling Institute. "You only need it if your house is on fire."

Vitamin E is also important during pregnancy, Traber says.

  • It's critical in the development of a baby's nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.
  • One study showed that pregnant women with low levels of vitamin E were nearly twice as likely to experience miscarriages.

Here are our tips, culled from nutritionists, on how to include this crucial vitamin in your diet.

1. How much to take: The recommended daily level is 15 milligrams. Women who are lactating need slightly more, at 19 milligrams per day, the Harvard School of Public Health notes.

2. What to eat: Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds and plant-based oils, as well as dark greens. Think almonds and sunflower seeds; canola and sunflower oil; and kale, spinach and collard greens.

3. How to supplement: If the foods mentioned above aren’t a major part of your diet, consider supplementing. There are many ways to take vitamin E, including pills or oils — though the oils have a shorter shelf life, Traber says. You can also use multivitamins that contain vitamin E. And note that it's best to take your supplements with a meal.

  • Multivitamins typically have lower levels of vitamin E than stand-alone pills or oils, so make sure you're getting the right amount. Healthline has a comprehensive review of vitamin E supplements.

4. Worth noting: There are prenatal vitamins on the market that do not contain vitamin E. Look for a brand that does, to keep you and your baby healthy, Traber tells us.

And here's what to watch out for:

  • It's possible to take too much. Vitamin E can be toxic at very high levels, so the daily cap is around 1,000 milligrams.
  • Consult your doctor. Vitamin E supplements can have negative interactions with treatments and medications, including chemotherapy and anti-coagulants, Healthline notes.
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