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In February 2014 there was a call from DSM, a leading global vitamin supplier, for the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin E to rise substantially to 30mg per day. The vitamin has several important functions, for example helping to maintain cell structure by protecting cell membranes and contributing to the protection of cells from oxidative stress. For the latter function, vitamin E is able to carry an Article 13.1 General Health Claim in the European Union.
Vitamin E has also been linked to benefiting chronic age-related diseases, for example slowing functional decline in Alzheimer’s patients as well as having some effect in reducing age-related macular degeneration. The former is becoming increasingly important as the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK estimates that one in 14 people aged over 65 has some form of dementia.
Therefore, the greatest potential of vitamin E is as an anti-ageing supplement and functional ingredient, but, as the below explains, foods high in vitamin E can also make a large contribution to the diet.
In Europe, the RDI varies between 4-25mg per day for tocopherol vitamin E forms for men and 3-12mg for women. In the US, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is somewhat higher, at 15mg. DSM scientists published an article in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research in early 2014 which suggests a more appropriate level would be double the current RDA in the US. It states this is necessary as vitamin E is essential as it is a key element in cell membranes to protect polyunsaturated fatty acids from oxidation.
In a recent media article, DSM also stated that it believes it is difficult to obtain the required amount of vitamin E through diet alone and therefore consumers need to turn to supplements. However, as clearly highlighted below, there is room for innovation in foods and intake from oils and fats, nuts and seeds should not be ignored.
While there are eight forms of vitamin E, the two most common in food sources are gamma-tocopherol – found in products such as corn oil, soybean oil and margarine – and alpha-tocopherol, the most biologically active form of vitamin E. The latter is found most abundantly in wheat germ oil, sunflower and safflower oils. According to Euromonitor International’s ingredients data, in 2012 nearly 1,500 tonnes of vitamin E were consumed in food and drink products, of which 40% derived from oils and fats.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institutes of Health, wheat germ oil has the highest amount of alpha-tocopherol per serving – one tablespoon contains 20.3mg. In contrast, sunflower oil, the oil with the next highest content of alpha-tocopherol, has just 5.6mg per tablespoon. Therefore, over five tablespoons a day would have to be consumed to reach DSM’s proposed 30mg per day recommended intake.
In addition, nuts and seeds, in particular, are gaining a reputation as a healthy snack due to their high content of so-called good fats, as well as being a source of protein. As vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, alpha-tocopherol is found in significant amounts in sunflower seeds (7.4mg per 28g), almonds (6.8mg per 28g), hazelnuts (4.3mg per 28g) and peanuts (2.2mg per 28g). Therefore, with a couple of servings of sunflower seeds or almonds a day as a snack and a drizzle of oil on a salad, a person could be well over the current RDI and well on the way to achieving that proposed by DSM.
While a significant amount of vitamin E can be taken in through natural sources, vitamin E is also finding increasing favour as an antioxidant and anti-ageing ingredient in fortified/functional (FF) food and drink products. For example, a number of spreadable oils and fats are now fortified with vitamin E, as well as yoghurt and other dairy products, and even juice drinks. Hence, if the use of vitamin E as a functional ingredient continues on an upward trend, it could help boost the variety of products which target anti-ageing health concerns, including vision health, brain health and beauty from within.