Vitamin E

Vitamin E is the common name for a group of compounds called tocopherols, which remain together when extracted from foods. The most active form is alpha tocopherol.

The main action of Vitamin E in the body is as an antioxidant, protecting cells against oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The body’s cells must constantly deal with free radicals, which occur as by-products from foods or from the air. As an antioxidant such as polyunsaturated fats and Vitamin A, Vitamin E protects other substances from oxidation by being oxidised itself.

There is still considerable debate regarding the ability of Vitamin E to prevent heart disease. Population studies have shown an inverse relationship between Vitamin E and coronary heart attack and Vitamin E supplements have been shown to decrease the incidence of heart attacks. Vitamin E acts by controlling the clotting of platelets in the blood and also lowering the number of platelets, therefore decreasing atherosclerosis.

Recommended daily intakes (RDI) for Vitamin E (mg/day)


Age (years)


19+ yrs


7 mg


10 mg

NB: figures are alpha tocopherol equivalents.

The antioxidant benefits of Vitamin E mean that New Zealanders could consume more Vitamin E. The only problem with doing this via the diet is that this increases the overall fat intake.

Vitamin E deficiency/toxicity

Deficiency is extremely rare and usually only associated with diseases relating to fat malabsorption. Likewise toxicity is uncommon and does not cause health issues.

Food sources of Vitamin E

The amount of Vitamin E in the diet is related to the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids consumed in the diet. Because vegetable oils are a rich source of both, deficiency is rare. Other food sources of Vitamin E are dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, avocado, kiwifruit, nuts, seeds, soy beans and whole grains. Vitamin E is readily destroyed by heat processing, so highly processed and convenience foods do not contribute enough Vitamin E to ensure adequate intake.