Prepared Foods October 18, 2004 enewsletter

Vitamin E, taken to boost health and reduce the risk of heart disease, makes little difference to consumers unless downed with fatty foods like full-cream milk or buttery toast, according to a British study.

Researchers at the University of Surrey found the absorption of vitamin E into the bloodstream (and therefore its effectiveness) was reduced significantly if it was taken with a low-fat meal.

The findings showed sparse eaters who took vitamin E with water or cereal with semi-skimmed milk gained minimal benefits.

Big eaters who consumed vitamins with cereal and full-fat milk or cream achieved significantly better results, and those who ate toast and butter had an even higher absorption rate.

However, a Health Department nutrition and physical activity branch manager, Jan Lewis, said people should not take vitamin supplements.

They should instead get the necessary nutrition through fresh food and a balanced diet.

"If people want to protect against heart disease, they should have a variety of healthy foods and no saturated fats," she said.

"You don't need to supplement your diet with vitamin E or any other vitamin supplements, only on very rare occasions. One single vitamin is not going to protect you against heart disease."

Lewis said people should not eat fattier food in the hope of absorbing more from vitamin E supplements.

The foods mentioned in the research, including cream and butter, were high in saturated fat and more likely to cause heart disease, she said.

University of Surrey researcher John Lodge said he was unable to offer advice on the best way to take the vitamin.

"This research is significant, as it shows that people following a healthy, low-fat diet may not immediately be getting the same coronary protection as they might expect from their vitamin E supplements," he said.

"This does not mean I recommend people take up a higher-fat diet. Further research needs to be done. The levels of vitamin E and its protection can be achieved with a low-fat diet over a longer time if you take the supplement on an ongoing basis."