All too often people think of vitamin C health benefits as being limited to fighting the common cold and flu. But this nutrient offers many other impressive healthy perks you should know about. Let’s not take vitamin C for granted!
What’s the story about vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. That means it dissolves quickly in the body and is transported to the body’s tissues as needed, but is not stored. Any excess vitamin C we take in is excreted, largely through urine. Because we cannot store vitamin C but need this nutrient, it’s important to consume it on a regular basis.
What's so great about vitamin C?
This vitamin is necessary for many functions. For example, vitamin C:
- Stimulates the production of collagen, which is critical for supporting and maintaining skin health.
- Helps ward off lines and wrinkles and other signs of aging skin
- Fights inflammation and helps with wound healing
- Is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine
- Works to breakdown (metabolism) proteins, which aids digestion
- Fights free radicals. This vitamin is a potent antioxidant, which means it helps destroy cell-damaging free radicals produced by air pollution, cigarette smoke, excessive sunlight, and metabolism.
- Plays a critical in boosting the absorption of non-heme iron, a form of iron found in plant-based foods.
- Can prevent and treat gout. Research indicates that vitamin C can lower uric acid levels in individuals who have gout and help prevent it in people who don’t.
How much vitamin C do I need?
The Food and Nutrition Board has established that the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin C for adult men and women is 90 milligrams (mg) and 75 mg, respectively. The upper limit is 2,000 mg daily.
If you consumed too much vitamin C from your diet, you probably would not suffer any harm. For example, if you ate 1 guava (126 mg vitamin C) and ½ cup of acerola cherries (822 mg) in a day, you would be fine. However, taking megadoses of vitamin C supplements may result in abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, heartburn, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.
What are the symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency?
Fortunately, a vitamin C deficiency is rare. It is characterized by bleeding gums, dry scaly skin, muscle weakness, muscle and joint aches, and easy bruising. A deficiency of vitamin C also may interfere with wound healing. If you have undergone surgery or have experienced burns or other injuries, taking a vitamin C supplement for a short time may enhance healing.
What are the best vitamin C foods?
The best vitamin C foods are fruits and vegetables. Although this nutrient is not found naturally in whole grains, it is added to some cereals. If you want to reap the most vitamin C health benefits from your fruits and vegetables, eat them raw or lightly cooked—steaming and microwaving may reduce vitamin losses.
Here’s a list of the top 15 vitamin C foods:
- Acerola cherries, 822 mg per ½ cup
- Kakadu plums 481 mg per plum
- Mustard spinach, 195 mg per cup
- Yellow pepper, 137 mg per ½ cup
- Guava, 126 mg for one
- Green chili pepper, 109 mg for one
- Black currants, 101 mg per ½ cup
- Strawberries, 89 mg per cup
- Papaya, 87 mg per cup
- Raw kale, 80 mg per cup
- Pineapple, 79 mg per cup
- Kiwi, 71 mg for medium
- Orange, 70 mg for medium
- Broccoli, 51 mg per ½ cup
- Brussels sprouts, 49 mg per ½ cup
What juices are high in vitamin C?
Eating fresh, raw fruit is the best way to get your vitamin C, as well as the other nutrients and fiber they provide. However, sometimes we want to enjoy juice as well. When choosing juices, opt for organic when possible and select brands that are unsweetened (no added sugar).
Here’s the vitamin C content of 8 ounces of some favorite juices:
- Orange juice, fresh squeezed, 125 mg
- Cranberry juice cocktail, 90 mg
- Grapefruit, not from concentrate, 76mg
- Orange Juice, not from concentrate 72mg
- Blended vegetable juice, 65 mg
- Tangerine, 55 mg
- Tomato, 45 mg (watch out for sodium)
- Pineapple, unsweetened, 25 mg
- Carrot, 20 mg
- Prune, 10 mg
- Apple, unsweetened, 2.2 mg
What should I know about vitamin C supplements?
You will find scores of vitamin C supplements on the shelves, so which one is the best? That depends partly on your personal preferences. Vitamin C supplements are available as tablets, powders, liquid, and chewables. Here are some things to consider if you want to take supplements of vitamin C:
- Avoid those that use artificial colors and/or flavors
- Stay away from proprietary blends. Because the Food and Drug Administration does not require supplement makers to list how much of each ingredient they are using in their proprietary formulas, you don’t know exactly what you are buying or taking.
- Check for these ingredients: titanium dioxide, maltodextrin, and talc. Titanium dioxide is considered to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Maltodextrin has a glycemic index greater than table sugar, and talc can easily be contaminated with asbestos.
- Vitamin C supplements can be made with either synthetic ascorbic acid or natural ascorbic acid. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, these two forms are chemically the same, and “there are no known differences in their biological activity.” Synthetic meals the ascorbic acid was derived from fermented sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that usually is derived from fruit or corn syrup.
- Consider acidity. Vitamin C supplements made from ascorbic acid are more acidic than those made from the salts of ascorbic acid, which can include calcium ascorbate, potassium ascorbate, or sodium ascorbate. Supplements made from these salts may be easier on your digestive tract.
The bottom line
As you can see, vitamin C is for more than just colds and flu. Although vitamin C supplements are an option, there are plenty of vitamin C foods, including many fruits, vegetables, and juices, that provide an impressive amount of the vitamin. Vitamin C health benefits truly rock!
Read This Next: Vitamin C: What You Need to Fight Aging
Arthritis Foundation. Gout and supplements: what you need to know.
Linus Pauling Institute. Cognitive function in depth. Oregon State University.
Linus Pauling Institute. Supplemental forms. Oregon State University.
Moser MA, Chun OK. Vitamin C and heart health: a review based on findings from epidemiologic studies. International Journal of Molecular Science 2016 Aug 12; 17(8): pii
Pullar JM et al. The roles of vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients 2017 Aug; 9(8): 866
Titanium dioxide classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Van Gorkom GNY et al. The effect of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in the treatment of patients with cancer: a systematic review. Nutrients 2019 Apr 28; 11(5): pii
Which kinds of juices have the most vitamin C in them? SF Gate 2018 Dec 12
Zeratsky K. Is it possible to take too much vitamin C? Mayo Clinic