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TalkingNutrition

Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

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Nutritional Harmony: Keeping PUFA and Vitamin E in Balance

By Julia Bird

As I sat down to eat lunch today with my colleagues, they had a question for me: what is healthier to eat for breakfast, a fried egg or a bowl of cereal? Humans love dichotomies almost as much as talking about why their own dietary choices are the best, and my first reaction was to tell them that what I eat for breakfast, a bowl of natural muesli, is the superior choice. But with a second’s deliberation, perhaps partly due to reading a case report this morning on an infant on a strict elimination diet who developed protein malnutrition and probably would have been better off being given a fried egg, my answer was that it depends.  Good nutrition is not about what single food we eat at one moment in the day. Nutrient status is based on nutrient intakes and metabolism over the prior months, or even years. The aim of nutrition recommendations such as MyPlate is to encourage individuals to eat a wide variety of different foods in order to get a balanced amount of different nutrients.

Getting the balance right is the subject of a recent research article by Raederstorff and colleagues. A little know nutrient interaction is between polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and vitamin E. The unsaturated bonds in PUFA are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the unsaturated double bonds cause a “kink” in the molecule that provides some of the functionality of fatty acids. On the other hand, the double bonds are more prone to oxidation in the body. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant and its role in protecting PUFA from oxidative damage is recognized by national nutrition bodies such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the US, the Organisations for Nutrition in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (D-A-CH) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia. There appears to be an ideal ratio of PUFA to vitamin E that provides PUFA with adequate protection from oxidative damage, which is estimated to be around 0.4 - 0.6 mg alpha-tocopherol per gram of PUFA.

One would expect, perhaps, that vitamin E recommendations would therefore be based on PUFA intakes. This is not the case: IOM base the US/Canadian recommendations on the level of vitamin E needed to prevent the breakdown of red blood cells, and the Australian recommendations are based on median population intakes in a population assumed to be vitamin E replete. Only the D-A-CH recommendations take the requirement for PUFA into account. Setting recommendations based on the amount of vitamin E needed to protect PUFA from oxidative damage results in a slightly increased requirement for vitamin E when typical PUFA intakes are assumed. However, it may be better to consider vitamin E requirements based on a certain basal requirement to prevent red blood cell lysis, plus an extra amount based on the degree of saturation of fatty acids in the diet, both mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids are protected from oxidation by vitamin E. Requirements for vitamin E range from 0.075 mg vitamin E per g of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) to 1.5 mg vitamin E per g of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which has six double bonds. As global MUFA&PUFA intakes range between 33 to 54 mg per day for adults, 12.5 to 20 mg vitamin E is required using the formula given by Raederstorff et al. to compensate for fatty acid saturation. Given that the majority of people living in high income countries do not meet the current lower vitamin E requirements, it seems that vitamin E intakes are also not high enough to protect PUFA in the body.

What does this mean in terms of nutritional balance? Many foods contain both vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids. However, as vitamin E intakes are relatively low, people should focus on increasing their vitamin E intakes to make sure that they are in balance with PUFA intakes.

The table below lists a number of foods, their vitamin E content and the amount of vitamin E needed to balance the PUFA&MUFA in the food, sorted by the amount of vitamin E relative to the amount of PUFA. When the vitamin E content is higher than the vitamin E "requirement", then the food will improve vitamin E intakes relative to its unsaturated fatty acid content.

USDA Food
Database Number
Description Vitamin E content (mg/100g) Vitamin E requirement (mg/100g
food)
04038 OIL,WHEAT GERM 149.4 33.7
08028 CEREALS
RTE,KELLOGG,KELLOGG'S ALL-BRAN COMPLETE WHEAT FLAKES
46.4 0.7
08077 CEREALS
RTE,GENERAL MILLS,WHL GRAIN TOTAL
45.0 0.4
04532 OIL,HAZELNUT 47.2 10.9
04702 OIL,INDUSTRIAL,CTTNSD,FULLY
HYDR
35.3 0.5
04529 OIL,ALMOND 39.2 14.0
04642 OIL,INDUSTRIAL,MID-OLEIC,SUNFLOWER 41.1 18.8
12036 SUNFLOWER
SD KRNLS,DRIED
35.2 13.0
12061 ALMONDS 25.6 8.5
03821 INF
FORMULA. MEAD JOHNSON, PREGESTIMIL, W/IRON, PDR,NO RECON
13.4 3.7
04674 MARGARINE-LIKE
SPRD,SMART BALANCE LT BUTTERY SPRD
15.8 6.2
12120 HAZELNUTS
OR FILBERTS
15.0 7.4
16272 VITASOY
USA NASOYA,LITE SILKEN TOFU
5.3 0.0
14041 BEVERAGES,NESTLE,BOOST
PLUS,NUTRITIONAL DRK,RTD
5.2 0.2
19125 CHOCOLATE-FLAVORED
HAZELNUT SPRD
5.0 0.0
08352 CEREALS
RTE,QUAKER,MOTHER'S TSTD OAT BRAN CRL
4.5 0.0
11856 SPINACH,FRZ,CHOPD
OR LEAF,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
3.5 0.1
15072 ROE,MIXED
SPECIES,RAW
7.0 3.7
11207 DANDELION
GREENS,RAW
3.4 0.2
12635 MIXED
NUTS,DRY RSTD,W/PNUTS,W/SALT
10.9 7.8
11891 TURNIP
GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
1.9 0.1
15140 CRAB,BLUE,CKD,MOIST
HEAT
1.8 0.3
11012 ASPARAGUS,CKD,BLD,DRND 1.5 0.1
09039 AVOCADOS,RAW,FLORIDA 2.7 1.3
11093 BROCCOLI,FRZ,CHOPD,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT 1.3 0.0
11693 TOMATOES,CRUSHED,CANNED 1.3 0.1
15264 SALMON,SOCKEYE,CND,DRND
SOL,WO/ SKN & BONES
2.09 1.04
19814 SNACKS,PRETZELS,HARD,PLN,MADE
W/ ENR FLR,UNSALTED
0.4 0.7
21280 DOMINO'S
14" PEPPERONI PIZZA,CLASSIC HAND-TOSSED CRUST
1.0 1.3
05309 CHICKEN,CORNISH
GAME HENS,MEAT ONLY,RAW
0.2 0.6
43483 MILLET,PUFFED 0.7 1.1
01029 CHEESE,MOZZARELLA,LO
MOIST,PART-SKIM
0.4 0.8
18039 BREAD,OATMEAL 0.5 1.0
01130 EGG,WHOLE,COOKED,OMELET 1.3 1.9

 

Main citation:

Daniel Raederstorff, Adrian Wyss, Philip C. Calder, Peter Weber, Manfred Eggersdorfer. Vitamin E function and requirements in relation to PUFA. British Journal of Nutrition Published online: 21 August 2015 http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S000711451500272X

 

Supporting citations:

Ma DW, Seo J, Switzer KC, Fan YY, McMurray DN, Lupton JR, Chapkin RS. n-3 PUFA and membrane microdomains: a new frontier in bioactive lipid research. J Nutr Biochem. 2004 Nov;15(11):700-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590275

Mori F, Serranti D, Barni S, Pucci N, Rossi ME, de Martino M, Novembre E. A kwashiorkor case due to the use of an exclusive rice milk diet to treat atopic dermatitis. Nutr J. 2015 Aug 21;14(1):83. doi: 10.1186/s12937-015-0071-7.

Barbara Troesch, Birgit Hoeft, Michael McBurney, Manfred Eggersdorfer and Peter Weber. Dietary surveys indicate vitamin intakes below recommendations are common in representative Western countries. Volume 108 / Issue 04 / August 2012, pp 692-698. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512001808

Food nutrient content data from the USDA Food Database SR27. http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=24912


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