Vitamin Me

Vitamins. They’re cheap insurance against so-so diet & lifestyle choices. Vitamin E, in particular, is known to be a very powerful, anti-aging, cancer-fighting, heart-protecting antioxidant, so Dede & I have always been diligent about taking that supplement.

But I’d never thought much about the source of the vitamins we take, just focusing instead on faithfully taking them every day. Then last week, I read that while the natural vs. synthetic forms of most vitamins are usually chemically identical, Vitamin E is quite different. Maybe I’ve been hanging around pharmacists too much, but this really picqued my interest so I dug in and read a lot more. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned:

“Vitamin E” is the collective term for a family of eight compounds: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, & delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma & delta.) Tocopherols are the most studied components of Vitamin E as they have the highest bioavailability.
vitamin e capsule
Our bodies have specific binding & transport proteins for using natural, food-based Vitamin E and largely ignores all other forms. Okay wait, that bears repeating: your liver actually works to rid itself of synthetic Vitamin E as quickly as possible! In effect, synthetic Vitamin E is all but worthless.

What’s more, I discovered that synthetic Vitamin E is derived from petrochemicals (via an unholy-sounding chemical reaction between TMHQ with isophytol) and includes BHA and BHT, nasty petroleum-based preservatives which are believed to be carcinogenic. (These are also found in lots of highly-processed foods like snacks & packaged baked goods, all the more reason to avoid those whenever possible.)

So, natural Vitamin E is 3-4 times more efficient and is the only form you should take!

But how do you know what you’re buying?

It’s easy to determine which type you’re getting once you know what to look for: natural forms of Vitamin E have d- before the compound name (for example d-alpha tocopherol) and synthetic forms are labeled with a dl- prefix.

Some practical tips gleaned from the head-scratching scientific hooey I read:

  • Even with the natural forms of Vitamin E, many capsules supply only the alpha compound but studies indicate that a “mixed” formulation that includes the other three types of tocopherols is far more effective.
  • If you take both Vitamin E and iron supplements, take them at different times of the day. Also, inorganic forms of iron (such as ferrous sulfate) destroy Vitamin E but organic iron (ferrous gluconate or ferrous fumarate) leaves Vitamin E intact.
  • Taken on an empty stomach, Vitamin E’s absorption is reduced by an average of 50%, so this supplement is best taken with some food.
  • To get more of this vital vitamin via the food you eat, go for leafy green vegetables, tuna, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, kiwi, tomatoes, peaches, and grapes.

The Crust of the Matter

Ever heard of Smucker’s Uncrustables for kids? These frozen peanut butter sandwiches (of dubious nutritional caliber) come in a variety of flavors, are made from whole wheat or white crustless bread, and are thawed out an hour or two before lunch or snacktime.

I bring this up because earlier this week I read a brief post over at Bargain Briana about a kitchen tool that lets you make your own Uncrustables-style sealed pocket sandwiches. I read the article and promptly left a comment hoping to generate a little discussion on the broader topic of cutting crusts. Frankly, I’m kinda miffed that Briana apparently not only opted to toss out my comment, but didn’t even email me. Okay, fair enough—her blog, her prerogative. Perhaps she just didn’t want to get mired down in the dicey, controversial waters of crust-cutting. So, I thought I’d broach the topic here:

Let’s not mince words: I’m opposed to the idea of cutting crusts off of sandwiches for kids on a number of levels:

  1. Babies don’t come out of the chute with an inbred hatred of bread crusts; parents implant that notion. Why foster the idea that crusts are bad?
  2. Crust-cutting not only creates more work for harried parents, but unnecessary waste as well. Why instill the expectation that someone will always gladly take the time to needlessly trim off and discard an otherwise good portion of a sandwich?
  3. The crust is the most nutritious part of bread, containing 8 times more antioxidants and more dietary fiber, which helps prevent colon cancer! Why wouldn’t you want your kid(s) to have the full benefit of the foods you’ve chosen (and paid hard-earned money) for them to eat?
  4. And lastly, in support of my pro-crust position, I offer the following:

    If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars [and] heavens.
    —English poet, Robert Browning (1812-1889)

  5. But maybe I’m missing something here. Is there a valid reason for crust-cutting that simply eludes me? Am I some kinda retrograde Luddite or just being downright negligent by not trimming the nefarious crusts off of Liam’s otherwise delicious sammiches?

    So, what do you think? Do you cut the crusts off of your kids’ bread?