Vitamin E to Fight Cancer: Food, not Supplements

In this week’s Cancer Research Update, you can read about the latest results from the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), a study looking at whether supplements of these nutrients might help reduce risk of prostate cancer.

What is vitamin E and what does it do in the body that made researchers think it might help lower risk for cancer?

Vitamin E is an antioxidant – that means it can protect our cells from being damaged by “free radicals.” Free radicals are unstable, high-energy molecules; some of these are a by-product of our own metabolism. We are also exposed to free radicals from cigarette smoke, air pollution and UV light from the sun.

Antioxidants such as vitamins E and C can help keep these molecules from damaging our cells. That’s why researchers are looking at whether supplements of these vitamins and other plant compounds (phytochemicals) could help lower risk for cancer and other chronic diseases associated with free radicals.

Fortunately you can get vitamin E in your diet through nuts, seeds and vegetable oils – and there’s some in green leafy vegetables. As discussed in the CRU article, it is possible that the antioxidant work that vitamin E and other phytochemicals do is dependent on other substances in the whole food. If you just take the supplement, it may not be able to work in the same way as it does coming from food.

You can get a whole array of antioxidants and other health promoting substances in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Although we don’t yet know exactly how they all work together in the body, we do know that eating a variety of plant foods with minimal processing in amounts right for you can provide nutrients you need and help you get to and stay a healthy weight. A great start to overall good health and reducing your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases.

The RDA for adults for vitamin E is 15 mg. Here’s a listing of some foods that contain vitamin E:

Table 2: Selected Food Sources of Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol) [7


Milligrams (mg)
per serving

Percent DV*

Wheat germ oil, 1 tablespoon



Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon



Safflower oil, 1 tablespoon



Hazelnuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons



Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Corn oil, 1 tablespoon



Spinach, boiled, ½ cup



Broccoli, chopped, boiled, ½ cup



Soybean oil, 1 tablespoon



Kiwifruit, 1 medium



Mango, sliced, ½ cup



Tomato, raw, 1 medium



Spinach, raw, 1 cup




Crunchy (Yet Healthy) Chicken

You may have hundreds of recipes for chicken — but we bet you haven’t got this week’s Health-e-Recipe for Chicken Crusted with Almond and Flax. The object here is to make chicken with a crunchy texture that comes from cancer-fighting ingredients.

In addition to fiber, crushed almonds provide vitamin E. Flaxseed is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s in plant foods such as flaxseed and walnuts are slightly different from the omega-3s found in cold-water fish. But both are being studied for potential cancer-preventive action.

Serve this entree with plenty of delicious vegetables, like Tri-Colored Peppers with Herbs and Stir-fried Kale with Slivered Carrots from our brochure Veggies in the New American Plate series. Add a yummy whole grain, like quinoa, barley or brown rice and you’ll have a delicious, cancer-fighting meal.

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A Little Treat with A Big Taste

How can a high-fat food be part of a healthy diet? When it’s a nut. Nuts have unsaturated fats that are high in calories but healthy for your heart. Today’s Health-e-Recipe for Almond Fig Bars was devised to give you maximum taste and nutrition in each bite so you’re satisfied without eating too many.

That’s a tall order, but the orange zest and almond extract give these chewy bars rich flavor, while the dried figs provide natural sweetness. The figs and whole-wheat flour provide more dietary fiber than you’d usually get in a small serving of most baked goods, while the almonds offer crunch, protein and vitamin E.

Although they are high in fat, almonds and other nuts are nutritious foods. The omega-3 fats in walnuts made headlines for possible cancer prevention. With nuts, just rein in your serving size. For almonds, 23 whole nuts equal a 1-ounce serving and have 163 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Chopped or slivered nuts can be toasted to bring out their flavor so you only need to add a small amount to a recipe: place a tablespoon-full in a dry skillet over medium-high heat and stir constantly for 2 minutes until they are fragrant and golden — then toss them into salad, cereal, smoothies, soups, whole grains and steamed vegetables. Test your nut knowledge by taking our quiz. Click here to subscribe to weekly Health-e-Recipes from AICR’s Test Kitchen.