The human body doesn’t synthesize vitamin E. Even though there are enzyme systems, vitamin C and beta-carotene take care of the body defensive mechanism against free radicals. Vitamin E as a powerful antioxidant is needed for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Hence, the body depends on other sources through which vitamin E can be obtained.
As a natural source, only plants synthesize vitamin E. Vitamin E can also be synthetically produced. It is found in vegetables like spinach, carrots, turnips, mustard and broccoli; in fruits like papaya, almonds and kiwi; and in plant-based oils like olive, soya, corn, sunflower and safflower oil.
All kinds of foods with vitamin E have alpha- and gamma-tocopherols in varying amounts expressed in milligrams. The USDA food composition database lists all the foods rich in vitamin E with the amounts available. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, a nutrient rating system has been developed to determine the world’s healthiest foods, which are classified as excellent, very good and good sources of vitamin E. It details the food source, serving size, caloric value, amount, daily percent value (value provided by the nutrient) and the nutrient-density rating. It classifies the foods as excellent, very good and good according to the percent daily value (greater than 75%, 50% and 25%, respectively) or density and percent daily value. The excellent sources are mustard greens and dried sunflower seeds, and the very good sources are spinach and almonds.
As with any other natural foods, vitamin E content is lost due to commercial processing, cooking and storage. Some amount is lost when it is exposed to air. Commercial processing of wheat, from which 90% of breads, baked goods and pastas are made, removes 50% of the vitamin E content. Hence, vegetable oils should be kept in well-capped containers.
Vitamin E from food alone doesn’t have any documented evidence of side effects. But many scientists believe that to take 15 mg per day of alpha-tocopherol from food (which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance) would be very difficult without increasing the cholesterol level.
However, considering the potential beneficial effects of vitamin E from food and the harmful side effects from vitamin E supplements, medical practitioners recommend at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily for healthy living.