Tocopherols


Tocopherols may be a mystery ingredient to many people. This is because it certainly doesn’t sound like the name many people typically use to describe it. Rest assured, though, the complicated name references a harmless, natural substance.

Let’s take a look at what tocopherols really are, and what they do for us. After all, they must be in all these foods for a good reason!

What Is It?

Tocopherols is a term used to collectively refer to four different forms of vitamin E.[1] Individually, they’re called: alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol.

Alpha-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E found naturally in many foods. The group appears together on food labels usually as a result of a desire to fortify the food. Manufacturers will sometimes fortify foods with additional nutrients if they are naturally devoid of positive nutritional value to help them appeal to buyers.

What Is Its Biological Role?

Tocopherols are listed as an ingredient when they are specifically added to foods, rather than to mark naturally occurring vitamin E in these products. This can happen for a few different reason, depending upon the product.

Primarily, tocopherols are added to foods during the fortification process, to help add more vitamin E to our diet. This is important because of the many health benefits of vitamin E.[2] It can help to moderate your cholesterol levels, care for hair, skin, vision, assist in hormone moderation, and even acts as an antioxidant.

Antioxidants are compounds that can fight against and help repair damage to our cells that has been caused by a different group of harmful compounds known as free radicals. In addition to nutritional benefits, tocopherols have some effects that can help extend the shelf life of processed foods as well.

When present in products that also contain largely unprocessed fat like coconut oil, it acts as a natural preservative that can keep them from going rancid. It is also commonly added to beauty products due its ability to help soften and smooth skin.

This last effect is actually because vitamin E makes up almost all of your skin’s antioxidant defenses to protect them against damage. By adding more vitamin E topically to the mix, it's like sending in extra troops.

How Does Its Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

Tocopherols can benefit everybody, regardless of diet or lifestyle. However, it can be especially beneficial to bodybuilders and some other specific types of fitness enthusiasts that a wide range of products have been fortified with tocopherols.

With certain fitness goals, there is a premium put on maximizing your protein intake. Even if that is something that yields a positive benefit for you, eating a lot of protein means you aren’t eating other things that may provide necessary nutrients.

So, choosing nutritional bars that have protein but also have tocopherols added can help even out your nutrition profile and keep you healthy.

What Foods Contain It?

Added to a wide range of foods, tocopherols aren’t hard to find. They can be found in cereals, oatmeal, breads, granola, nutritional bars, and more.

How Much Of It Do You Need?

Think of tocopherols as different types of fruit. You know you’re supposed to get X amount of fruit per day, but that doesn’t necessarily means it has to only be strawberries and bananas, right?

Tocopherols are different forms of vitamin E, and do this group does include every available form of the vitamin. The FDA’s recommendation for daily vitamin E consumption [3] is 30 IUs, but this can be gleaned from all 8 forms of vitamin E and so does not apply exclusively to tocopherols.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

There is no recognized upper ceiling of tocopherol consumption, as no negative side effects have been associated with this ingredient. Best to double check consumption with your own doctor however as your situation may be unique.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

Consuming too few tocopherols may or may not be negative, depending on your routine. Some people take a vitamin E oil supplement and so don’t need to worry about tocopherols.

However, if you are one of the populations mentioned above that stands to miss out on important micronutrients in your pursuit of macros like protein, then not choosing foods fortified with tocopherol could put you on the path to a vitamin E deficiency.

Final Take

Hopefully you’re breathing a sigh of relief right now as you learn that this isn’t just another fancily-named poison in your food that you’ll want to avoid. Tocopherols do have some non-nutritive benefits, but really they are added for the benefit of consumers to help make certain foods healthier.

Of course, that doesn’t instanlyt make a sugary cereal “healthy” per se, but it does at least get some extra vitamins in your body, which just about every consumer in today’s increasingly health minded market will love.

References:

[1] Wikipedia. Tocopherol. Wikipedia, 2017.

[2] Institute for Physiological Chemistry. Role of Tocopherols in The Protection of Biological Systems Against Oxidative Damage. University of Dusseldorf, 1991.

[3] Food And Drug Administration, US. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labelling Guide. US Department of Health and Human Services, 2013.