Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that the body needs to function properly. Most animals can synthesize vitamin C from glucose. However, certain animals and primates (including humans) lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C about 61 million years ago. Now, we must obtain this essential nutrient from our diet each day.
Because vitamin C is needed on a daily basis, many people tend to be deficient in this vital nutrient. In this article, we will discuss the best vitamin C foods so you can include more of these in your diet to reach your daily vitamin C needs.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that it dissolves in water and is delivered to the body’s tissues, but is not stored well by the body, so we must consume it daily through food or supplements. Vitamin C is most commonly found in fruits and vegetables.
What Does Vitamin C Do?
Vitamin C plays many essential roles in the body. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radicals, control infections, heal wounds, and support overall immune system health.
Vitamin is also needed to make collagen, the fibrous protein that forms the majority of the soft tissue in our body. Vitamin C works alongside L-Lysine and L-Proline to synthesize collagen. Collagen is essential for the nervous system, bone, cartilage, blood, immune system, and many other body parts.
Additionally, vitamin C helps make up several hormones and neurotransmitters used by the brain and nervous system. Vitamin C also improves the absorption of non-heme iron, the type of iron found in plant foods. Therefore, consuming enough vitamin C in your diet can help boost your iron absorption.
What Is the Recommended Dietary Allowance of Vitamin C?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for adults is 90 mg daily for men and 75 mg for women. Smoking may deplete vitamin C levels in the body, so an additional 35 mg of vitamin C is recommended for smokers. Many doctors and health experts recommend a much higher dose of vitamin c daily.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin C?
The body can go a few days or weeks without vitamin C, but if not enough is consumed daily, it will begin to have some adverse effects. Vitamin C deficiency is considered rare in developed countries; however, it may occur if you get less than 10 mg daily for over one month. This primarily occurs through following a diet severely lacking in fruits and vegetables, chronic smoking, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, or drug and alcohol abuse.
Deficiency can come from these lifestyle habits because vitamin C is an antioxidant that the body uses to fight free radicals. When exposed to too many free radicals, such as those found in cigarette smoke or alcohol, your body may use up all the vitamin C it has to fight off the free radicals and protect your cells from oxidative stress.
Your body needs a constant supply of vitamin C to fight off free radicals. The more free radicals you are exposed to, the more vitamin C you need.
If you have a deficiency of vitamin C, the following signs and symptoms may develop:
- Scurvy. This is the primary disease caused by severe vitamin C deficiency. The symptoms of scurvy result from a loss of collagen (which vitamin C is essential for). The loss of collagen weakens connective tissues and results in skin spots, bruising, swelling, bleeding gums, tooth loss, hair loss, and delayed wound healing.
- Fatigue. Another common symptom of vitamin C deficiency is fatigue and exhaustion.
- Iron-deficiency anemia. This can occur due to a decreased absorption of non-heme iron, which vitamin C is essential for.
While these are the primary signs of a severe vitamin C deficiency, a mild deficiency can still cause damage. In addition, oxidative stress caused by free radical exposure can occur if there is a lack of vitamin C in the diet, which can negatively affect your health.
What Foods Are High in Vitamin C?
It is crucial to ensure you are getting enough vitamin C in the diet, and the best way to do this is by consuming vitamin C-rich foods. Most of the foods with vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. Still, among fruits and vegetables, some stand out as being foods high in vitamin C and are the best foods to go for if you want to make sure you are getting enough vitamin C in your daily diet. Some of the top vitamin C foods include:
1. Amla Berries
Amla, also called Amalaki or Indian gooseberry, is a fruit native to India and is one of the highest sources of vitamin C available. According to one review, just one amla fruit contains 600–700mg of vitamin C. This means you can well exceed the RDA for vitamin C with just a single fruit!
2. Acerola Cherries
Acerola cherry (Malpighia emarginata), also called Barbados cherry, is another fruit that is very high in vitamin C. Just one-half cup of red acerola contains 825 mg of vitamin C. Similar to amla, just a single acerola cherry can provide you with your daily vitamin C needs.
3. Rose Hips
Rose hips are the small, tart fruit that grows on the rose plant. These tiny fruits are rich with vitamin C. Just 100 grams of rose hips provides 424 mg of vitamin C well more than the RDA.
4. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers, also called sweet peppers, are another excellent vitamin C source. Green bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, orange bell peppers, and red bell peppers are all the same pepper, just harvested at different stages of ripeness. The vitamin C content of a bell pepper appears to be its highest when it is yellow, second highest when it is orange, third highest when it is green, and the lowest when it is red or fully ripened.
Citrus fruits are naturally high in vitamin C. Just one whole lemon provides 45 mg of vitamin C or 50% of the DV. Lemons were commonly given to sailors to prevent them from getting scurvy.
Oranges are another citrus fruit that is even higher in vitamin C than lemons. A medium-sized orange provides 83 mg of vitamin C and 92% of the RDA. Other citrus fruits, including limes, grapefruits, and tangerines, can also help you meet your vitamin C needs.
7. Guavas and Guava Leaves
Guavas are a delicious, pink-fleshed tropical fruit naturally high in vitamin C. One medium-sized guava contains 125 mg of vitamin C and 138% of RDA. Guava leaves are also a rich source of vitamin c and naturally occurring zinc.
All berries contain some vitamin C, but strawberries are by far the most vitamin C rich of the berries. Just one cup of sliced strawberries provides 97 mg of vitamin C or 108% of the RDA.
Cruciferous vegetables are also high in vitamin C. One-half cup of cooked broccoli provides about 50 mg of vitamin C over 55% of the RDA.
10. Brussels Sprouts
Another delicious cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts, is also rich in vitamin C. One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides 100 mg of vitamin C.
Kale is also a cruciferous vegetable part of the Brassica family (along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and cauliflower). Like its fellow family members, kale is rich in vitamin C.
If you want to include more vitamin C-rich foods in your diet, aim to eat more fruits and vegetables daily. Not only are they naturally the highest foods in vitamin C, but they contain many other essential nutrients as well. The highest vitamin C fruits and vegetables include:
· Acerola cherry
· Rose hips
· Bell peppers
· Brussels sprouts
One easy way to meet your daily vitamin C needs is to include one or more of these foods in your meals. For example, you could start your day with lemon water, have a bowl of strawberries and mango (another vitamin C-rich food) for breakfast, eat an orange or guava as a snack, or eat some steamed broccoli, kale, and bell peppers with your dinner.
As long as you eat fruits and vegetables each day (and limit your exposure to free radicals), you shouldn’t need to worry about meeting your vitamin C needs. If you want to ensure you are meeting your daily vitamin C needs, just include more of these vitamin C-rich foods in your diet each day.