Barley is a decent source of tocotrienols. (Photo by nakae)
In my previous post about tocotrienols – a form of vitamin E – I mentioned I've begun taking a tocotrienol supplement to see whether it has an effect on hair growth.
If you're like me, you're probably wondering whether it's possible to skip the supplement and get tocotrienols from natural foods instead. In this post, I'm going to answer that question by looking at some of the studies.
Fruits and vegetables
A study by Chun et al. measured the tocotrienol content of tens of different fruits and vegetables sold in the United States. The results are a pretty depressing read: even the foods that scored the highest are still very low in their tocotrienol content. None of them are near the amounts found in the supplements currently available.
Among fruit, the winner was coconut, which had 0.79 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 0.18 of gamma-tocotrienols per 100 grams. The second place went to cranberry with a gamma-tocotrienol content of 0.33 mg per 100 g. This means that to equal the amounts in Toco-Sorb and Toco-8, you'd have to consume about ten kilos of coconut or more than a hundred kilos of cranberry.
The winner of the vegetable category was frozen & blanched corn, which had 0.38 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 1.02 mg of gamma-tocotrienols per 100 g. Canned corn kernels fared pretty well, too, with 0.12 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 1.30 mg of gamma-tocotrienols. Still, you'd have to consume ridiculous amounts of these as well to get tocotrienols in any meaningful doses.
The study didn't mention beta-tocotrienols and delta-tocotrienols at all, but it's probably safe to say that their amounts were not that significant either.
Compared to the dishearteningly low tocotrienol levels of fruits and vegetables, animal products don't seem to be much better. Ye et al. report:
Samples included raw and cooked bacon, all beef hot dogs, raw and braised pork loins, raw and pan fried pork liver, raw chicken, chicken hot dogs, chicken nuggets, patties and tenders, frozen, glazed chicken wings, and raw and baked Orange Roughy and Tilapia fillets, canned chunk light tuna and fish sticks. The data represents analysis of 130 samples collected through USDA sampling protocols.
Alpha- and gamma-tocotrienols were measurable in some chicken, processed chicken, bacon and pork loin but at levels usually less than 0.1 mg/100g. Frozen chicken patties (cooked and uncooked) contained more than 0.4 mg/100g alpha- and gamma-tocotrienol.
So most meat has just as little tocotrienols as fruits and vegetables. Who's ready for ten kilos of uncooked chicken patties?
Oils and fats
According to Chiew et al., crude palm oil contains 21.2 mg of alpha-tocotrienol, 30.8 mg of beta-tocotrienol, 63.0 mg of delta-tocotrienol and 8.3 mg of gamma-tocotrienol per 100 grams. During the refining process the amounts are reduced, but even refined palm oil beats fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and animal products.
I was unable to find actual studies on the tocotrienol content of other oils, but looking at the helpful figure over at tocotrienol.org, palm oil is clearly the best one in the fat group. Coconut oil the second best, but it's still miles away from palm oil and doesn't contain any delta-tocotrienols.
The rest of the oils, including my favourite, the ubiquitous olive oil, are absolutely useless in this regard.
Grains and seeds
The tocotrienol content of some grains and seeds, on the other hand, looks somewhat better.
A study by Frega et al. mentions that annatto seeds contain a respectable 140-147 mg of delta-tocotrienols per 100 g. Toco-Sorb and Toco-8 only contain about 15 mg of delta-tocotrienols, so a mere 10 grams of annatto seeds would be enough to get an equal amount.
However, the authors mention that most of the tocotrienols were of the delta form, so it might not compare to the supplements in other areas. Looking at annatto supplements this seems to be the case: usually 90% of tocotrienols in annatto seeds are delta-tocotrienols, while 10% are alpha-tocopherols.
According to tocotrienol.org, rice bran has 23.6 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 34.9 mg of gamma-tocotrienols per 100 g. Barley has 67 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 12.0 mg of both beta- and gamma-tocotrienols. These are much higher amounts than fruits, vegetables and meats have, but neither contain delta-tocotrienols. They're also not a particularly good choice if you're on any kind of low-carb diet, like me.
As you can see, getting tocotrienols from food sources is problematic. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain so little tocotrienols that we can just forget about them. Animal products don't seem to be of much help either.
The first thing that shows any promise is palm oil. This is hardly surprising, since Toco-Sorb and Toco-8 are both made from palm fruit extract. Still, you'd have to eat about 200 grams (about one cup) of palm oil to match the extracts used in the supplements. This would be almost 1,900 kcal in energy, so unless your diet consists of only palm oil (okay, you could throw in a few chicken patties as well), this is an unfeasible choice.
The next possible option are annatto seeds, which have 15 mg of delta-tocotrienol (the amount used in the supplements) per 15 grams. That's only 1-2 tablespoons. The problem with annatto is that it only has delta-tocotrienol and a small amount of alpha-tocotrienol.
Barley is also a decent choice, with 100 grams providing 67 mg of alpha-tocotrienol and a bit of beta- and gamma-tocotrienol. As you may know if you've read my blog, I'm not a big fan of eating grains and cereals, but if you wished to go this route, combining barley and annatto seeds looks like a viable option.
For now, I'm sticking with the supplements.