WHAT IS VITAMIN C?
Vitamin C (also known as L-ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble antioxidant. It’s considered an essential nutrient because unlike other mammals, humans are unable to make vitamin C out of other materials so it’s important that we get it in our diet.
Vitamin C is necessary to produce collagen in the skin, which keeps skin and tissues tough but flexible. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient as well and has been linked to reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Deficiency in vitamin C can lead to symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, joint and muscle aches, bleeding gums, and leg rashes. Prolonged deficiency can lead to scurvy, a rare but potentially severe illness.
VITAMIN C AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Vitamin C is probably most well known for its immune supportive properties, but it may not work in exactly the way we think it does. It’s true that vitamin C is highly concentrated in our immune cells and is, indeed, consumed quickly during an infection. Quickly replenishing vitamin C during an active infection has a tendency to reduce the severity and duration of colds. However, a meta-analysis of decades of studies revealed that supplementing with vitamin C on a regular basis did not reduce the frequency of colds. The takeaway is this: begin taking vitamin C when you start feeling sick in order to lessen the cold, but don’t expect your daily vitamin C dose to keep you from getting sick in the first place.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I TAKE?
The recommended daily intake (RDA) for vitamin C is 90 milligrams per day for adult men and 75 milligrams per day for adult women. Pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as smokers will need additional vitamin C. It’s easy to consume this amount through food (for example, 1 orange contains about 70mg vitamin C), but sometimes supplementing is needed if you would benefit from more vitamin C or if you are sick.
When choosing a vitamin C supplement, look for one that contains between 100mg-2,000mg per day. Look for a “buffered” vitamin C product, meaning a vitamin C supplement with added minerals like calcium, magnesium, or potassium. Vitamin C supplements can be highly acidic, making it hard for sensitive individuals to digest them comfortably. Buffered vitamin C is gentler on the body and provides a longer-lasting effect.
HOW TO INCLUDE VITAMIN C IN YOUR DIET
Vitamin C is abundant in fruits and vegetables, but be aware that the amount of vitamin C decreases each day after the produce has been harvested and also during cooking. For the highest vitamin C content, enjoy your produce fresh and raw.
Top 10 vitamin C foods:
- Papaya: Cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and serve with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle of nuts for breakfast.
- Bell Peppers: Slice and eat raw as a snack with hummus or guacamole, sauté or grill as a side dish, or add to scrambled eggs, soups, and stews.
- Broccoli: Enjoy raw as a snack with hummus or guacamole, add to salads, or steam or roast as a side dish.
- Brussels Sprouts: Slice thin for a raw salad, or sauté or roast with salt and pepper as a side dish.
- Strawberries: Enjoy raw either alone or sprinkled on yogurt, salads, or used in desserts.
- Pineapple: Cut into cubes and enjoy raw, as part of a fruit salad, or grill on a kebab.
- Oranges: Slice and enjoy as a snack, add to salads, or use juice and zest in dressings, marinades, soups, and baked goods.
- Kiwi: slice and enjoy raw or add to a fruit salad.
- Cantaloupe: Cube and add to a fruit salad or wrap in prosciutto and bake for a savory snack.
- Cauliflower: Enjoy raw with hummus or guacamole, steam or roast as a side dish, puree into a soup.