Vitamin C is one of the best-known vitamins for everyday health. If you’re like most people, you probably drink a glass of orange juice regularly or take a chewable vitamin supplement to make sure you get that daily quota. But did you know these common habits may not be the best way to top up your body’s vitamin C supply? In fact, they don’t provide the full disease-fighting benefits that natural food-based vitamin C has to offer.
There are many foods which have more vitamin C than an orange and may be more effective at nourishing your body than a supplement. But first, why is vitamin C so important for your health?
Why vitamin C is so good for your health
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, has several important functions related to healthy cells, skin, blood vessels, bones, cartilage, and more. Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, meaning your body can’t produce it internally – it must be consumed from outside sources. Yet, it has many roles and has been linked to extensive health benefits.
Vitamin C protects your cells from damage & disease
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects your cells from being damaged by free radicals produced by cigarette smoke, air pollution, excessive sunlight, and normal metabolism. Free radicals are thought to play a role in rapid aging and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. When free radicals accumulate, they can promote a state known as oxidative stress, which has been linked to many chronic diseases. Studies show that consuming more vitamin C can increase your blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%. This helps the body’s natural defenses fight inflammation, which is known to be the root of many leading causes of death.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables might lower your risk of many types of cancer, such as breast, colon, and lung cancers, and this protective effect could be related to the vitamin C content of the foods we eat. Taking oral vitamin C supplements may not offer the same benefit.
Vitamin C boosts immunity
One of the main reasons people take vitamin C supplements is to boost their immunity. This is a wise choice since vitamin C is involved in many processes to do with the immune system. Vitamin C encourages the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which protect the body against infection. It also helps these white blood cells function more effectively while protecting them from free radical damage. Vitamin C is also an essential part of the skin’s defense system, which is our first defense against invading pathogens. It’s actively transported to the skin, where it can act as an antioxidant and help strengthen the skin’s barriers.
Vitamin C protects your brain
Studies suggest that oxidative stress and inflammation in the central nervous system can increase the risk of dementia. The antioxidant action of vitamin C can protect against this damage. Research has proven this capacity by showing that people with dementia may have lower blood levels of vitamin C. Plus, a lack of vitamin C can lead to impaired brain functions and hinder thinking and remembering. Furthermore, high vitamin C intake has been shown to have a protective effect on brain function in older people.
Vitamin C is needed for healthy skin & joints
Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen, which is needed to support new tissue growth and build the connective tissues found in healthy gums, bones, muscles, cartilage, and blood vessels. It promotes healthy skin as well as the healing of cuts and wounds.
Vitamin C improves iron absorption
Vitamin C increases and regulates the absorption of plant-based iron found in vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Effective iron absorption is important in supplying energy to our cells and can help fight conditions such as fatigue and anemia.
Vitamin C improves heart health
Approximately one-third of American adults have high blood pressure, which contributes to a higher risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death globally. Studies have shown that vitamin C helps keep blood pressure at a healthy level and reduces other risk factors such as high triglycerides and unhealthy cholesterol measures. A large study found that after 10 years, people who took at least 700 mg of vitamin C daily had a 25% lower risk of heart disease than those who did not take a vitamin C supplement. Notably, other research found that consuming vitamin C from foods rather than supplements was linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
The many critical roles of vitamin C in the body make it clear that this is an important nutrient. One study found that it could be difficult to reach an effective dose of vitamin C with the average American diet, so eating foods high in this health-boosting vitamin is more important than ever.
The best vitamin C-rich foods
When you think about vitamin C, what food comes to mind? Surprisingly, the best source of vitamin C isn’t the classic orange, or a glass of cold, pulpy Tropicana. Oranges do contain an impressive 96 milligrams of vitamin C per cup – which equates to 106 percent of the recommended daily value – but there are many other foods that are actually richer in this important nutrient.
Everyday foods with higher vitamin C than oranges
These commonly-available foods should be on the top of your immunity-boosting, heart-health-protecting vitamin C shopping list.
- Pineapple: One cup of pineapple contains 131 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, as well as antioxidants known as flavonoids and phenolic acids. Plus, many of the antioxidants in pineapple are bound, meaning they produce longer-lasting benefits in the body.
- Kiwifruit: With 167 milligrams of vitamin C per cup, kiwifruit delivers a serious nutrient punch. Eating just one medium-sized kiwi provides 79 percent of the DV for vitamin C, which benefits blood circulation and immunity.
- Chili Pepper: A half-cup of chopped or diced chili peppers delivers 108 milligrams of vitamin C. Plus, researchers from the University of Buffalo found that capsaicin, the compound that makes chili peppers hot, may help relieve joint and muscle pain.
- Blackcurrants: Just 100 grams of blackcurrants will deliver over 200 percent of your daily vitamin C quantity. Blackcurrants have four times the amount of vitamin C as oranges and double the number of antioxidants as blueberries.
- Strawberries: Strawberries are well-known for their antioxidant properties, and they are a rich source of vitamin C. Their vitamin C content is slightly more than that in a single orange.
- Thyme: Gram for gram, fresh thyme has three times more vitamin C than oranges and one of the highest vitamin C concentrations of all culinary herbs.
Vitamin C Superfoods
Many exotic fruits are amazingly rich in vitamin C and may be available depending on where you live or if your local grocery store stocks these tasty imports.
- Kakadu plums from Australia contain up to 5,300 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams, making them the richest known source of this vitamin. Just one plum delivers around 530% of the DV.
- Just one-half cup of acerola cherries delivers 913% of the recommended DV for vitamin C. The fruit may even have cancer-fighting properties.
- Guavas contain 228 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams. One guava fruit delivers 140% of the DV for this vitamin. A six-week study involving 45 young, healthy people found that eating 400 grams of peeled guava per day, or around 7 pieces of this fruit, significantly lowered blood pressure and total cholesterol levels.
Are you getting enough vitamin C?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily amount of vitamin C for adult men is 90 milligrams, and for adult women is 75 milligrams. For most people, an orange or a cup of strawberries, chopped red pepper, or broccoli provides enough vitamin C for the day.
However, people with limited diets or inadequate access to fresh food, as well as those with gastrointestinal conditions and some types of cancer, might be susceptible to vitamin C deficiency. A severe lack of vitamin C can lead to a disease called scurvy, which is characterized by anemia, bleeding gums, bruising, and poor wound healing.
If you choose to increase vitamin C intake with supplements, keep in mind that the supplement might not offer the same benefits as naturally occurring antioxidants in food. Look for food-based supplements, such as those made from blackcurrants or acerola cherries, for the best vitamin content.