I recently asked readers what issues they would like to see covered in this blog. Vitamin E was one of many requested topics.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin that occurs in nature in several forms, namely tocopherols and tocotrienols. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, the only form recognized as meeting human requirements for vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol.
Alpha-tocopherol is added to foods, supplements, and personal care items as natural tocopherol and synthetic tocopherol. You can tell whether a food/supplement contains synthetic or natural vitamin E by reading the ingredient label. Synthetic vitamin E has a “dl” in front of the name, such as dl-alpha tocopherol. Natural forms of vitamin E have a “d” in front of them, such as d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopherol acid succinate, and d-alpha tocopherol acetate.
D-alpha tocopherol is derived from vegetable oil, most often soybean oil. D-alpha tocopherol also may be derived from other oils, including wheat germ oil. This has caused some members of the gluten-free community to be concerned that d-alpha tocopherol may contain gluten.
Important points to keep in mind
Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, highly refined oils and ingredients made from highly refined oils are exempt from allergen labeling.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the following to say about highly refined oil, “Highly refined edible oils are the result of processing that involves de-gumming, neutralizing, bleaching, and deodorizing the oils extracted from plant-based starting materials, such as soybeans and peanuts. Refining improves the quality of plant oils by removing undesirable free fatty acids, gums, and phosphatides, imparting uniform color and eliminating undesired odors to make the product acceptable from the sensory perspective for human consumption.
“A benefit of refining edible oils is that the refining process renders them virtually free of allergenic protein according to information provided on the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils website. According to the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, the vast preponderance of edible oils consumed in the U.S. are highly refined and processed to the extent that allergenic proteins are not present in detectable amounts. Scientific studies indicate that refined oils are safe for the food-allergic population to consume.
In contrast, mechanical or “cold press” extraction of oils from plant materials may not remove all protein. However, cold-pressed oils are rarely used.”
In other words, if wheat germ oil is highly refined it doesn’t appear to contain much in the way of residual protein. (Nonetheless, I do not recommend eating wheat germ oil) BUT, we are not talking about ingesting wheat germ oil but an ingredient isolated from the oil via extensive processing.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, this processing includes solvent extraction, distillative neutralization and precipitation, purification, and separation. (On a related note the European Food Safety Authority has permanently exempted from allergen labeling d-alpha tocopherol derived from soybean oil.)
Oils that are not highly refined as well as ingredients made from such oils are not exempt from allergen labeling. Therefore, if a food or supplement includes as an ingredient vitamin E derived from wheat germ oil that is not highly refined, and the vitamin E contains wheat protein, the word wheat must be included on the label, either in the ingredients list or Contains statement.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act does not apply to personal care products. Allergens, such as wheat protein do not need to be declared in these products. If you see d-alpha (not dl-alpha) tocopherol in the ingredients list of a personal care item you might ingest, such as lipstick and you want to know whether it was derived from wheat germ oil, you will have to contact the manufacturer and ask.
Keep in mind that most vitamin E appears to be derived from soybean oil and most edible oil in the U.S. is highly refined. Even if unrefined wheat germ oil is the source of vitamin E, the amount of protein in an ingredient that is extracted from oil is likely very low. Furthermore, the amount of vitamin E added to a personal care product is likely low and the amount of a non-food item you are likely to ingest even lower.
For more information about vitamin E, see the Vitamin E Fact Sheet available at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VITAMINE/
For more information regarding edible oils and allergens, see the website of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils available at http://www.iseo.org/faqs.htm#faq6
Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD
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