An essential nutrient to support your immune system and crucial for the growth, development, and repairing of various tissues in the body, Vitamin C, otherwise known as ascorbic acid can be found in a variety of whole foods including:
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
- Red and green peppers
Historically known to improve overall health and immunity, we'll dive deeper into Vitamin C and the foods you should be eating to ensure you're getting in adequate amounts.
WHAT IS VITAMIN C?
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that can be found in many different foods and dietary supplements.
An essential nutrient, your body is unable to create Vitamin C on its own - meaning you must ingest it through your diet.
It is important for:
- Repairing Damaged Tissue and Healing Wounds
- Immune Health and Function
- Reducing Oxidative Stress
- Boosting Collagen Production
- Maintaining Healthy Cartilage, Bones, and Teeth
Let’s now take a look at the RDA for vitamin C, foods high in vitamin C, and the benefits of vitamin C for your body.
WHAT IS THE RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCE FOR VITAMIN C
The amount of vitamin C you need to consume each day depends on your age, gender, and weight.
The table below highlights the average recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for vitamin C, according to the National Institutes of Health:
|0 to 6 months
|7 to 12 months
|1 to 3 years
|4 to 8 years
|9 to 13 years
|14 to 18 years
|Above 19 years
|Smoking lowers the level of vitamin C in the body. Smokers should consume 35 mg more per day than nonsmokers.
It’s important to note that consuming more than the recommended daily upper limits of vitamin C can lead to:
- Stomach cramps
FOODS RICH IN VITAMIN C
There are many foods that are rich in Vitamin C, but here are four of our favorites:
- Citrus Fruits
Oranges, lemons, limes, guava, grapefruit, and mandarins are all rich sources of vitamin C.
According to the USDA, one cup of oranges, for instance, provides 87.3 mg of vitamin C. Therefore, consuming at least one cup of oranges per day can help you meet the RDA of vitamin C for both men and women.
The guava fruit, on the other hand, contains 228 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams, which is four times as much as that in an orange. That’s more than three times the daily recommended intake, so you won’t need to consume as much guava as you would oranges. The best way to get the maximum vitamin C benefits from guava fruit is to eat it unpeeled.
Citrus juices, including grape juice, orange juice, and lemon juice, are also rich sources of natural vitamin C.
Citrus fruits and juices also play a critical role in boosting your immune system. Moreover, citrus fruits and juices are rich in other nutrients, including:
- Dietary fiber
- Vitamin B
- Anti-inflammatory properties such as carotenoids and flavonoids
Citrus fruits and juices are also cholesterol, sodium, and fat-free. You can savor the sweet and tangy freshness of citrus fruits as a snack, or add them to salads, yogurt, oatmeal, or drinking water.
Just like cabbage, broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C, which makes it a great addition to any meal. According to the USDA, one cup of raw, chopped, or frozen broccoli contains 88 mg of vitamin C.
The FDA also states that one medium stalk of broccoli, which is about 148 g, provides 220 percent of the recommended daily amount.
Having said that, the best way to reap broccoli's vitamin C benefits is to steam it, as this helps to retain its nutrients. Alternatively, you can toss some broccoli into a stir-fry if you like it extra crunchy.
Raw broccoli is also rich in thiamin, vitamin A, K, calcium, and potassium. It’s also low in calories, fat, and sodium.
One cup of boiled cauliflower = 44.3 mg of vitamin C per 100 g.
One cup of raw cauliflower = 56.4 mg - - which is more than half of the daily recommended vitamin C intake for men and women over 14 years of age.
Cauliflower is best prepared by steaming it, which helps to preserve the water-soluble vitamin C it contains.
It’s also worth mentioning that raw cauliflower is low in calories, sodium, and fat, and rich in phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and vitamin A.
One cup of raw kiwi provides 166.9 mg of vitamin C, which is about 273 percent of the recommended daily amount.
As a rich source of vitamin C, both green and gold kiwis can boost immune function. Moreover, kiwi fruit can reduce the likelihood of developing cold or flu-like symptoms, especially among older adults and children.
Kiwi fruit is also loaded with other powerful nutrients and antioxidants, including vitamin E, K, A, folate, and potassium.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN C
There are three main reasons why you should include vitamin C in your diet:
SUPPORTS IMMUNE FUNCTION
Vitamin C plays a significant role in various components of the human immune system. For example, vitamin C stimulates the production of white blood cells, particularly phagocytes, lymphocytes, and neutrophils.
Your white blood cells protect your body against infection and disease. In other words, your white blood cells are your immunity cells. They flow through your body to fight illness-causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.
Studies also show that increasing your vitamin C intake, especially during the winter season, decreases the duration and severity of common cold and flu infections. Furthermore, vitamin C is a natural antioxidant that protects your cells from free radicals. Free radicals can increase your risk of disease due to the cell damage that arises from oxidative stress.
Preventing your body from oxidative stress helps to:
- Decrease inflammation
- Boost immunity
- Prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, arthritis, certain cancers, and other chronic diseases
BOOSTS COLLAGEN PRODUCTION
Vitamin C helps your body produce collagen, a fibrous protein that makes up one-third of the protein in your body. Collagen provides strength and structure to your connective tissues, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, intestinal lining, blood vessels, and skin. It also enhances wound healing.
A vitamin C deficiency can affect your body’s ability to make collagen. When your body is unable to produce new collagen to replace the old, it begins to weaken. Consequently, major structural systems in your body may begin to fail, which can lead to the following:
- Scurvy due to defects in connective tissues
- Joint pain or osteoarthritis due to worn cartilage
- Stiffer tendons and ligaments
- Broken blood vessels
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Poor wound healing
- Diminished muscle mass
- Bleeding and swollen gums
- Muscle aches and slow muscle recovery after exercise
It’s important to ensure your body has enough vitamin C to replenish your collagen stores. Moreover, collagen supplements improve joint health, muscle mass, and skin health.
IMPROVES IRON ABSORPTION
Vitamin C works by capturing non-heme iron and storing it in a form that your body can absorb more easily. In fact, research shows that including 100 mg of ascorbic acid in a meal will increase iron absorption 4.14 times.
If your body is unable to absorb iron or if the iron levels in your body are too low, you may develop iron-deficiency anemia. Moreover, your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment inside your red blood cells.
Without enough iron, your body cannot produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells, meaning you’ll not get enough oxygen.
With this in mind, you can enhance your body’s absorption of iron and prevent iron deficiency anemia in the following ways:
- Combining non-heme iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods
- Drinking a small glass of 100% orange juice with your meals
100% fruit juices are better than fortified fruit drinks because they’re also rich in phytochemicals, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial vitamins.
FILL YOUR NUTRIENT GAPS WITH SUPPLEMENTS
If you consume a variety of vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, you should be able to get adequate amounts of vitamin C solely through your diet.
You’re more at risk of vitamin C deficiency if you:
- Suffer from extreme environmental stress
- Don’t eat citrus fruits or vitamin C-rich foods on most days
- Are recovering from a serious burn, injury, or surgery
- Eat less than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
If you need more vitamin C than you get from your diet alone, you can fill your nutritional gaps with vitamin C supplements.
Since vitamin C promotes collagen synthesis in your body, taking your vitamin C supplements alongside collagen supplements will enhance this process.