Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that helps with everything from iron absorption to collagen production. Unlike certain other vitamins, vitamin C can't be made in the body, but it can be found in a wide range of foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. It can also be taken in supplement form.
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an essential nutrient that helps your body function. It's important to get enough vitamin C from your diet to reap its health benefits — between 75 to 100 milligrams each day, registered dietitian and nutritionist Keri Glassman told TODAY.
What benefits does vitamin C have?
This vitamin acts as a "super important antioxidant," said Glassman, who explained that antioxidants fight compounds known as free radicals, which can cause damage in the body and contribute to inflammation, heart disease and other conditions.
"Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which basically acts as a good guy that sort of destroys the bad guys — the free radicals — in our body," Glassman said.
Vitamin C is important for collagen production, which is a key component of skin health. It also helps the skin repair itself after injury and generally maintain its flexibility.
"As a dietitian, I think of vitamin C as being important for the synthesis of collagen, an important component of our skin and our connective tissue that also plays a role in wound healing," Glassman said.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian, told TODAY that the high antioxidant power associated with vitamin C can help with the prevention of "certain chronic conditions, certain cancer, cardiovascular diseases" and more.
Vitamin C and immune function
Because of its strong antioxidant properties, vitamin C is sometimes thought of as an immunity booster, a notion that both Kirkpatrick and Glassman said holds some weight.
Kirkpatrick said that when she talks to patients about it, she explains that vitamin C can help enhance immunity, but that it may not necessarily lead to a boost.
Glassman emphasized that vitamin C plays a significant role in supporting the immune system — thanks to the high level of antioxidants it contains.
"Vitamin C plays a really big role in our immune function — we need (it) for our immune function to work at its best," she said. "There's so much at the cellular level that goes into immunity, but you can definitely enhance it ... We have seen in studies that (vitamin C) does impact white blood cells, the cells that are generally used when you have an infection."
Glassman said that vitamin C can help with absorbing the iron from vegetables.
"You don't need meat to get iron in, you can get a lot of iron from vegetables, but it's not absorbed as well as the iron from meat," she explained. "Vitamin C helps absorb that type of iron, so if you're having something like spinach, which has iron, and you couple it with something with vitamin C, like tomato sauce, you're going to absorb that iron better."
Kirkpatrick said that you could also add vitamin C to an iron-rich food to make sure that you're absorbing as much iron as possible, especially if you're someone who has an iron deficiency.
How much vitamin C should you consume?
The amount of vitamin C a person should include in their daily diet can vary according to a variety of factors, including age, weight and gender, but generally men need more vitamin C than women.
Glassman said that it's recommended that men consume about 90 milligrams of vitamin C a day, while women should consume about 75 milligrams.
"For the most part, you're looking at anywhere form 75 to 100 milligrams a day," Kirkpatrick said.
How can you get more vitamin C into your diet?
You can always use vitamin C supplements for an extra boost, but both Kirkpatrick and Glassman recommend getting vitamin C from food sources whenever possible.
"The best source of (vitamin C) that we see is really coming from different types of foods, mainly fruits and vegetables," Kirkpatrick said. Here is a list of some of the best vitamin C foods.
These veggies and fruits are good sources of vitamin C:
- Red bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
- Cruciferous veggies
1. Red bell peppers
Just half a cup of raw red bell pepper will meet your vitamin C minimum for the day. A half-cup serving of the vegetable contains about 95 milligrams of vitamin C.
"Red bell peppers tend to have some of the highest sources of vitamin C per serving," said Kirkpatrick. "Just taking some red bell pepper, cutting it up and putting it in your salad will get you your vitamin C for the day."
Cooking the pepper could affect the amount of vitamin C in the vegetable, but Glassman said it wouldn't be a major impact.
2. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges might be the most obvious source of vitamin C, with a single medium-sized orange containing about 70 milligrams of the vitamin. Grapefruits and lemons are also rich in vitamin C.
Kirkpatrick warned that if you're looking to citrus fruits to get your daily dose of vitamin C, it's important to stick with the fruit itself and not juices, since they tend to contain a large amount of sugar.
"I have patients that say, 'Well, I'm really making sure I have my orange juice every day now, because I want to get that vitamin C,' but if you're trying to get a high level of immunity, having a large amount of sugar constantly circulating through the body is not good for immunity," Kirkpatrick said. "Even if there's no added sugar, it's still concentrated, so the sugar content is much higher. I would rather my patients just eat an orange."
Kiwis are also an excellent source of vitamin C — Glassman pointed out that a medium-sized kiwifruit has around 64 milligrams.
4. Cruciferous vegetables
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous veggies tend to have high levels of vitamin C, according to Kirkpatrick. However, it's important to keep an eye on the way you cook those veggies, she said.
"Take broccoli, there's about 40 milligrams for about half a cup of broccoli, so it's about half your daily needs," she said. "But if you take broccoli and you boil it to death, a lot of that vitamin C could be leached out into the water."
Potatoes might not be the first vegetable that comes to mind when considering vitamin C content, but Glassman said that a medium baked potato would contain around 17 milligrams of the vitamin.
"People don't think of that being in there," she said, but surprise, it is.