If you eat a balanced diet and haven’t been summering with Blackbeard, it’s unlikely you have scurvy. But there are many more reasons to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C in your diet. And while your first instinct might be to guzzle a glass of orange juice when you’re teetering on the brink of a cold, there are many more vitamin C foods than oranges.
Perhaps you find them too acidic. Perhaps they aren’t in season. Or maybe you just don’t like stupid oranges. You don’t have to defend yourself to us; we’ve got your back either way. Read on to discover vitamin C foods you never thought of before, and learn more about this essential vitamin.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble essential nutrient that is naturally present in a number of foods, can be added to fortify other foods, and also exists in supplement form. Vitamin C is also known alternately as ascorbic acid, which means “anti-scurvy,” a reference to the life-threatening condition famously suffered until the 1800s by sailors who lacked access to fruits and vegetables.
What Are the Benefits of Vitamin C?
The body utilizes Vitamin C in a number of vital functions.
1. Proper immune function
“Vitamin C is critical to immunity and immune function,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, nutrition manager for Openfit. But loading up on oranges or vitamin C-rich foods won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick or shorten a cold. That being said, if you’re sick and load up on healthy vitamin C foods like broccoli, spinach, peppers and strawberries, that’s a wise move for your overall health, says Giancoli.
2. Healthy skin and connective tissue
The most abundant protein in the body is collagen, the main structural material in connective tissue. Vitamin C helps synthesize collagen, which is present in tendons, ligaments, skin, corneas, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, and dentin, the layer of tooth below the enamel. It also aids in the healing of wounds.
3. Reduced iron deficiency
Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron, the form of the mineral found in plant foods. When you consume plant foods that are rich in iron — like beans and green, leafy vegetables — it’s a good idea to pair them with vitamin C foods at the same time to maximize absorption of the non-heme iron, suggests Giancoli.
4. Decreased cell damage
Along with vitamin E and beta carotene, vitamin C is a principle antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals and the threats they pose. Free radicals result when oxygen molecules split as a byproduct of normal metabolic processes and immune responses, and then bond with healthy atoms or molecules, destabilizing them. The resulting oxidative stress is associated with cell damage that can invite a host of diseases, as well as advanced aging.
How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 90 mg/day for men and 75mg/day for women in order to promote antioxidant protection and immune function, among C’s other benefits. A deficiency is defined as sustained intake of less than 10 mg/day. Keep in mind that the RDA will increase to 90 mg/day for both genders once the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels change.
As for sources, “it’s always better to get vitamins from food because then you’re getting an array of other nutrients as well,”‘ says Giancoli. The various nutrients in food work synergistically so that you’re getting the best out of them, she says.
While oranges are a fine source of vitamin C — one navel orange contains 83 mg — there are more vitamin C foods on your supermarket shelves than you might think.
One large, sweet red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C. Add these to stir-fries and Mexican dishes.
One large yellow bell pepper has 341 mg of vitamin C. Eat them raw with hummus or sliced on sandwiches for a crunch.
One cup of whole strawberries contains about 85 mg of vitamin C. Add frozen strawberries to smoothies all year long.
One cup of chopped broccoli contains about 81 mg of vitamin C, is low in calories, and even contains a couple grams of protein and fiber. You can sauté it and use it as a side dish with garlic and lemon.
An 8 ounce serving of orange juice contains about 124 mg of vitamin C. If that’s too much concentrated sugar for you, dilute it with seltzer.
A 6-ounce can of tomato juice contains about 128 mg of vitamin C. So drink this with breakfast or pair it with an afternoon snack.
This furry tropical fruit, also known as the Chinese gooseberry, is high in vitamin C relative to its size — just one small fruit contains 64 mg.
Eat one cup of fresh cantaloupe for 59 mg of vitamin C. These melons are also an excellent source of vitamin A.
One fruit contains about 36 mg of vitamin C. They make great snacks because peeling them takes time and slows you down.
You can get about 48 mg of C in a ½-cup cooked portion. Enjoy these all fall and winter roasted as a side dish.
Dark, leafy greens like kale are a stellar source of vitamin C. Two cups of raw kale contain about 40 mg. So sneak kale leaves into fruit smoothies, or add them to pasta dishes at dinner for additional fiber.
Have one half of a medium grapefruit at breakfast to take in 38 mg of C.
Eat a ½ cup of raw cauliflower as part of a crudité with hummus or a healthy dressing to get 26 mg of vitamin C.
Start your salad off with two cups of raw spinach to get about 17 mg of vitamin C.
One medium baked potato has about 42 mg of vitamin C.
One medium-sized persimmon has 16 mg of vitamin C.
What Qualifies a Food as “High in vitamin C?”
“It’s a specific definition,” says Giancoli. Information on nutrition facts labels can help consumers determine whether an item is a “good” source of a given nutrient, or an “excellent” or “high” source of that nutrient, she says.
In order for a food to be “high” in any nutrient, it must offer at least 20 percent of the Daily Value of that nutrient. A “good source” is quantified as anything that falls between 10 and 19 percent of the Daily Value. Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.