E is for Ellen by Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD

E/Ellen: vital to life

Eighty-seven years ago vitamin E was discovered and 36 years later Ellen DeGeneres was born.

I don’t know the exact birthday of vitamin E, but Ellen’s B-day is Monday, January 26th. Happy Birthday, Ellen!

Aside from the letter E, why the comparison? Well, both Ellen and vitamin E are essential to life. Fans of Ellen will agree that she makes the world a better place by always brining a smile to your face.

I can’t promise that vitamin E will have the same effect on you, but without adequate E you may not be able to enjoy Ellen or much else in life. A vitamin E deficiency, which is rare, can lead to loss of muscle coordination as well as impaired vision and speech.

Although deficiencies are uncommon, subpar vitamin E intake can increase your susceptibility to free-radical harm. Together, rampant free-radical formation and the resulting damage are called “oxidative stress” which has been implicated in the aging process and the development of diseases such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease. This is where antioxidants come in and fight for your life, so to speak.

Vitamin E is one of the body’s primary free-radical defenders, protecting the very vulnerable lipid (fat) rich cell membranes from destruction. Essentially, if we can keep the cell membranes strong and impervious, then each cell will be better able to do its job.

One of the functions of LDL cholesterol (aka “Bad Cholesterol”) is to pick up and drop off vitamin E at various cells in the body. In turn, vitamin E protects LDL from free-radical damage thereby making LDL not such a bad guy after all.

All cells in the body use oxygen to produce energy for work. During these normal metabolic processes, about five percent of the oxygen produces unstable molecules known as free-radicals—molecules with unpaired electrons. An electron without a partner is highly reactive. It needs to pair up with another electron to return to its stable state. Free-radicals also arise from environmental factors such as pollutants, pesticides and smoking.

Free-radicals will steal an electron from an otherwise healthy cell causing a cascade of mass destruction.

Enter vitamin E, the savior of the day. E already resides in the most oxygen-rich body cells such as the red blood cells, lungs, heart, brain, liver and adrenal glands. It is always ready, willing and able to donate one of its own electrons in order to stabilize the free-radical oxygen molecules thus ending the electron snatching chain reactions.

Once it has performed its antioxidant duties, vitamin E must be regenerated by Vitamin C, Selenium and Niacin. Alhough Iron, Zinc, Copper and Manganese also play a role in the body’s antioxidant defense system.

Vitamin E has been credited with helping to reduce the oxidative stress associated with diabetes. Vitamin E protects and strengthens the cell’s lipid membrane which helps insulin work better. Improved insulin function leads to improved blood glucose (sugar) control.

Although free-radicals seem harmful, they actually serve a purpose. Immune cells, for example, use free-radicals to help them inactivate viruses and bacteria.

The ongoing discovery of vitamin E may ensure that we ingest adequate E sources in order to optimize its protective effects. In other words, the more we understand about vitamin E, the more we realize how vital it is to our well-being.

The same principles hold true for Ellen. Once you discover her show, you get hooked on laughter, the best medicine. Hopefully you will find ways to get more laughter each day.

Enjoy my E-rich recipes. Please note, to aid absorption, consume fat with low-fat sources of vitamin E. Best E sources: Vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, almonds, sweet potatoes, tofu, avocado and spinach.

Sunflower shake
1 cup sunflower seeds, raw
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups non-GMO soy milk OR Milk from pasture-raised cows
1 banana
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
8 ice cubes

Soak sunflower seeds in water overnight in the refrigerator. Blend ingredients. Add ice gradually until reaching a desired consistency.

Curried Tofu or Chicken & Sweet Potato Salad
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro
2 Tablespoon minced red onion
1 Tablespoon chopped mint
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 large sweet potatoes, cubed
1/3 cup OJ
2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 (12 ounce) packages extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, rinsed and cubed
4 cups raw spinach

Whisk together first five ingredients. Combine curry and sea salt separately. Steam sweet potatoes. When done, mix with OJ and oil plus one teaspoon curry mixture. Combine remaining curry mixture with tofu or chicken. Cook chicken in water or broth. Toss spinach with dressing and distribute onto two plates. Top with sweet potatoes and tofu or chicken pieces. Add sunflower seeds, almonds or avocado for additional fat rich vitamin E sources.