Vitamin E has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help keep our immune and circulatory systems running smoothly—but, unfortunately, 90 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended 15 milligrams a day. Now, a new study suggests a tasty way to get more E into your day: The next time you enjoy a colorful salad, put an egg on it.
A few eggs, that is: Purdue University researchers found that when study volunteers ate salads with three cooked eggs, they absorbed 4.5 to 7.5 times more Vitamin E from the accompanying vegetables than when they ate egg-free greens.
Vitamin E is fat-soluble, which means it is absorbed by the body along with dietary fats, like oils, seeds, and nuts. It’s present in vegetables, but the body can’t absorb it well—or put it to good use—if those veggies are eaten alone.
A little olive oil or an oil-based salad dressing can help boost antioxidant absorption from vegetables, previous studies have shown. Research also suggests that Vitamin E supplements are also better absorbed when taken with a fatty food or drink.
Now this study suggests another way get more Vitamin E out of salad greens and other raw vegetables. Plus, say the researchers, eggs themselves are rich in beneficial nutrients such as amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, and B vitamins.
"This study is novel because we measured the absorption of Vitamin E from real foods, rather than supplements, which contain mega-dose amounts of Vitamin E," said Jung Eun Kim, PhD, a researcher in Purdue's nutrition science department, in a press release. The findings also highlight how one food can improve the nutritional value of another when they’re consumed together, the authors say.
The study, which was supported by the American Egg Board and the National Institutes of Health, involved 16 male volunteers who were fed three raw-vegetable salads, each a week apart. One contained no eggs, one an egg and a half, and one three eggs. Each salad was also served with 3 grams of canola oil.
Researchers analyzed blood samples from the volunteers after each salad was consumed, and found that absorption of two forms of Vitamin E—alpha tocopherol and gamma tocopherol—was 7.5 and 4.5 times greater, respectively, in those who ate three eggs compared to those who ate none. (That's not counting the small amount of Vitamin E found in eggs themselves.) There was no statistically significant absorption improvement for those who ate the smaller egg portion, suggesting that three whole eggs may be needed in order to truly reap such benefits.
The study was published this week in the Journal of Nutrition. In 2015, the same research team conducted a similar study that found that carotenoids—another family of fat-soluble vitamins—were also better absorbed when salad was eaten with eggs. Scrambled eggs were used in both studies, but the researchers say hard-boiled or any other cooked preparation will do.
Speaking of eggs, the “incredible edible” used to have quite a bad rap as a food high in dietary cholesterol. But recent research has found that cholesterol from food doesn’t necessarily raise levels in the body or contribute to cardiovascular disease. Today, most nutrition experts agree that eating eggs in moderation is safe and healthy for many people, yolks and all.
"For healthy people who do not have high cholesterol and are not at risk for heart disease, having more than one whole egg per day is probably fine," says Cynthia Sass, RD, author of Slim Down Now. However, Sass still recommends getting most of your daily fat from plant-based sources high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Egg yolks contain about 3 grams of protein and 4 to 5 grams of fat each, while egg whites contain about 3 1/2 grams of protein and no fat. "To reap the benefits of the yolk, while still boosting your total protein intake and making room for healthy plant-based fats, I generally recommend combining one whole egg with three whites, whether it's in a salad or an omelet, and adding a MUFA-rich fat source, like avocado, or EVOO," Sass told RealSimple.com.
"One takeaway is not to skimp on fat in meals with veggies," she adds, "whether it comes from whole eggs, or a combination of whole egg and healthy plant-based fat." Those plant-based sources should also boost the absorption of antioxidants and other fat-soluble nutrients, she points out (and many of them are good sources of Vitamin E themselves), so it's a win-win.