In this installment of our Simple Food Terms Explained, we look at the ubiquitous vitamin C. One of the most well known and easily accessible vitamins on the market, we take a closer look into what exactly is vitamin C, why it’s important and what’s the best way to incorporate it into your daily diet.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. Since your body can’t make or store it, you must consume food sources that contain the nutrient in order to get a sufficient amount of it.
Vitamin C is essential for both growth and tissue repair, making it especially important for growing children, adolescents and the elderly. It aids in the construction of the same protein that is responsible for making collagen and subsequently cartilage, like that which is found in your skin, tendons and ligaments. Vitamin C also helps repair bone, including your teeth, and helps the body absorb iron from non-heme sources like vegetables.
Like vitamin E, beta-carotene and several other plant-based nutrients, vitamin C is also an antioxidant. Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent harmful oxidizing agents from becoming free radicals. Free radicals, or atoms with an uneven number of electrons, can wreak havoc in the body. According to Rice University, vitamin C interacts with the free radicals to prevent the harmful chain reaction that causes cellular and even DNA damage to the body which can result in cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
How Much Vitamin C Do I Need?
As with all vitamins, the amount of vitamin C that a person needs depends on their age, sex, and whether or not they are pregnant or breastfeeding. For example, the National Academy of Sciences recommends that an adolescent boy between the ages of 14 and 18 consume 75 mg of vitamin C, per day. However, a breastfeeding woman would need to have a daily intake of 120 mg in order to meet the recommended dosage. Because smoking depletes vitamin C in the body, smokers may need up to 35 mg more than the recommended daily dosage.
As vitamin C is water-soluble, there is a limit to how much the body can absorb at any given time. Consuming too much vitamin C can cause a diuretic effect and in extreme cases, an upset stomach or diarrhea.
Good Sources of Vitamin C
There are several ways to get this key nutrient. Fruits with the highest source of vitamin C include oranges, watermelon, papaya, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi, mango and tomatoes. Vegetables with a high vitamin C content include green peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage.
Several raw leafy greens are also good sources of the vitamin. As this nutrient is sensitive to elements like light, air and heat, it’s best to consume vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables in a raw or lightly cooked state. If cooked, try steaming as this is the best way to retain the nutritional value.
Processed foods like cereal are often fortified with vitamin C, which means that it has been added and does not naturally occur in the food source. Check the nutrition label for how much vitamin C is in each serving.
Natural or artificially made vitamin C, in the form of supplements, is available in almost any grocery or health store. It comes in a variety of forms with tablets, capsules and chewables being the most common options. Dosage sizes usually range from 25 – 1000 mg.
Incorporating Vitamin C Into Your Everyday Diet
It’s not difficult to incorporate vitamin C into your everyday diet and you’re probably already doing it without noticing. The easiest way to get more vitamin C is to eat more raw fruits and vegetables, especially the citrus variety such as oranges, kiwis, and grapefruit.
For a bit of change, try eating fermented vegetables. Dishes such as kimchi (a traditional Korean dish made of fermented cabbage and vegetables) and sauerkraut (a similar fermented cabbage dish of German origin) can provide up to half your daily recommended vitamin C intake.