Vitamin E for Vegans – Sources, Absorption and Supplements
February 1, 2022
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that we must get exclusively from the diet. For vegans, it’s consumed mostly from plant-based fats and oils. It is essential for many of the body’s organs and systems to function properly.
Its main role is as a powerful antioxidant – it protects your cells from harmful ‘free radicals’ that can cause damage in the body. On top of this, it’s important for nerve and muscle function, prevention of blood clots, and a healthy immune system.
Vegan sources of vitamin E
Vitamin E is a plant-derived, fat-soluble vitamin that is found in a variety of plant foods that also have a high fat content, such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Other good sources include some fruits, vegetables, and fortified grains/cereals.
Some plant-based sources of this nutrient have been listed in the table below, along with their vitamin E content per serve:
Daily vitamin E requirements for vegans
Daily requirements can vary. Its importance in the diet is affected by the amounts and types of fat that are eaten, because it helps to fight free radicals that are naturally created from the digestion of certain types of fats. Generally, the higher the intake of polyunsaturated fat, the more vitamin E that is needed.
However, since foods that are good sources of polyunsaturated fat are usually also high in this vitamin, intake of both nutrients tends to go hand-in-hand.
The daily requirements are the same for vegans and the general population. Recommendations are based on adequate intake (AI) and upper limit (UL) values as per Australia’s Nutrient Reference Values:
On this table, the UL value for infants has been left blank, as the highest amount of vitamin E that is safe for this age group hasn’t been determined. However, regular intake of this nutrient through breastmilk, formula and food alone shouldn’t have any negative effects.
During pregnancy, it’s recommended to increase the amount of vitamin E in the diet whilst breastfeeding to account for some being secreted in milk. This makes sure that both the mother and her unborn child are getting their needs met.
Because this is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored within fatty tissues in the body after it’s eaten. This means that our bodies have a reserve of this vitamin ready to use when needed, so it’s okay if we don’t have the recommended amounts every single day.
Am I at risk of vitamin E deficiency or toxicity on a vegan diet?
Since vitamin E comes mainly from plant foods, vegans are at no greater risk of deficiency than the general population.
Deficiency is actually rare because it is found in such a broad range of foods and due to our bodies’ ability to store it. It typically happens as a result of conditions that reduce nutrient absorption rather than not getting enough from the diet.
Consuming this vitamin through food sources alone is unlikely to cause overdose or toxicity. Toxicity has only been found with taking high doses of supplements.
Side effects of deficiency:
- Nerve and muscle damage
- Loss of body control
- Muscle weakness
- Suppressed/altered immunity
- Vision impairment
Side effects of toxicity:
- Excess bleeding
- Gastrointestinal distress (diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting)
- General weakness and fatigue
- Mood swings
How can I optimise my absorption of vitamin E?
It is easy to get enough vitamin E through the diet, however it is not absorbed very efficiently. Absorption can be increased by eating it alongside foods rich in healthy fats. Again, this tends to happen naturally when it comes from food sources, as most foods that are rich in this vitamin also have a higher fat content.
Absorption from supplements is likely to be minimal if not taken with a high-fat meal.
Should I take a vitamin E supplement?
For those without any absorption issues, requirements can be easily met through a balanced and varied diet that is rich in plant-based unsaturated fats and oils.
Whilst there is some evidence that higher levels of intake may reduce the risk of developing chronic disease, this has little benefit for people who are already at higher risk. It is also possible for high levels of supplementation to cause toxicity.
Due to its blood-thinning effect, taking a supplement may also be dangerous for people taking anticoagulant drugs (such as Warfarin) or those who are deficient in vitamin K. In these cases, the blood can become too runny and unable to clot normally, which can cause excess bleeding.
Vitamin E may not be very useful to supplement considering that it’s not well absorbed in supplement form unless it’s paired with a source of fats.
Also, since we store any excess of this vitamin in our fatty tissues, we usually have a back-up reserve that is available to use on the days when our intake is lower.
For these reasons, a supplement is not necessary or recommended in most cases.
The bottom line
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential in our diet. It helps maintain healthy muscle, nerve and immune function and protects internal structures from damage.
As a vegan, getting enough through the diet is easy. It is found in a range of plant-based foods, particularly those with a higher fat content like nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. As such, deficiency is rare, and supplementation is usually not needed.
However, as always, specific dietary advice is not ‘one size fits all’. If you are concerned about your own vitamin E intake or absorption, speak to your GP or book an appointment with a Plant Nutrition and Wellness dietitian.
- Vitamin E – Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand
- The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases
- Australian Food Composition Database – FSANZ
- Vitamin E Function and Requirements in Relation to PUFA
- Vitamin E Toxicity
- Vitamin E – Micronutrient Information Centre, Linus Pauling Institute
This blog was co-written by PNW Clinic founder Kiah Paetz and student dietitian Megan Keith.