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The one vitamin you should beef up

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We’ve known for a long time how important vitamin E is. But why is it so important?

For starters, it protects the membrane of every cell in your body. That means it is a first line of defense against anything that wants to attack your cells. When you’re under too much oxidative stress, this system breaks down. T cells run short of an enzyme called Gpx4 that keeps their cells membrane intact. The result: a chronic infection that your immune system can never quite get rid of.

Oxidative stress is a common occurrence in a polluted world. It can result from overexposure to the sun, inhaling air pollution, breathing tobacco smoke or even downing a few too many alcoholic beverages. All of these circumstances can compromise your immune system.

However, just as Popeye perks up when he eats spinach, T cells supplied with extra vitamin E get back on their feet and knock out infection. Clinical trials show that consuming extra vitamin E results in more effective T cells.

Vitamin E is also important because it can keep your cells young — especially your muscle cells. This is very important as you age because we tend to lose muscle mass as we get older. Women, especially older women, are at even more of a disadvantage because they experience a reduced response to resistance exercise than older men. But vitamin E can help protect you from this negative consequence of aging.

But 90 percent of Americans do not consume enough vitamin E, and getting ample amounts of E for those of us following a paleo diet can be even trickier. Some of the best sources of vitamin E are seeds, nuts and their oils—but seed oils are excluded from paleo because they contain excessive amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

So what’s a good paleo “cave” woman or man to do?

You could enjoy a handful or two of almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds daily, and always make sure you’re eating lots of fruits and vegetables daily. Though fruits and vegetables don’t have exceptionally high amounts of E, it accumulates.

But probably the best thing you could do is enjoy more olive oil. Just one tablespoon contains 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Of course it’s great over salad, in various dressings, over steamed vegetables or for cooking just about anything.

Don’t stop there however. Eating whole olives is a great choice to get your vitamin E too. I grew up in a family that put olives on the table at every holiday or family gathering, so I have always enjoyed them. For some, it’s an acquired taste, but you’ll regret it if you never give them a try.

My favorite is the Kalamata, which is a big, purplish olive. They are great on salads or alone as a snack. Just one cup can supply about 20 percent of your vitamin E RDA.

With cold and flu season approaching, if you’re sticking to your paleo lifestyle, I hope you’ll work hard to beef up your vitamin E — no pun intended.

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