Also known as Ascorbic acid or Dehydroascorbic acid, this is probably the most familiar of all of the nutrients. While most people would struggle to name a source of niacin or riboflavin, everyone can think of at least one food that contains vitamin C.
Often taken to ward off colds and flu, this vitamin is also needed for normal growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body. Because we aren’t able to make or store vitamin C ourselves however, it is important that we include plenty of foods containing it, especially around winter months when there tends to be a lot of bugs circulating.
The vitamin is classified as an antioxidant, which means it helps keep chemical reactions in our bodies in check. Antioxidants also control the number of free radical molecules we have, which would otherwise cause damage to cells and tissue. Studies have shown that without adequate vitamin C, damage can be caused to the lenses of our eyes and even our DNA.
Another interesting feature about this nutrient and its antioxidant capabilities is that it changes the structure of iron so it can be better absorbed. It is also needed to make collagen – the protein that helps keep our skin looking young and fresh by ‘holding’ it together. When we’re young, our skin stays smooth because it constantly regenerates itself. As we age however, collagen production slows down, which causes it to sag and wrinkle. This is largely why there’s been a surge of beauty products containing vitamin C in recent years. Collagen is also the framework for our bones so without it, our skeletons would literally collapse!
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Apart from generally boosting the immune system, this mega vitamin also heals wounds and helps to form scar tissue, repairs teeth, bones and cartilage, and also forms a vital protein which is used to make blood vessels, ligaments, tendons and skin. Because, as an antioxidant, it battles free radicals, it also helps prevent arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
The most notable thing vitamin C is recognised for though is fighting the common cold. Research has demonstrated that people who take supplements or follow a vitamin c-rich diet get fewer colds and suffer for shorter amounts of time when do fall ill. It only helps though if it’s taken before symptoms kick in. Once a cold starts, additional amounts of the vitamin have little effect.
A report published in Seminars in Preventive and Alternative Medicine that looked at over 100 studies over a decade revealed a long list of benefits of vitamin C, including stress reduction and additional protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, and eye disease. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those with the highest concentrations of vitamin C in their blood had a 42% lower risk of stroke too.
WHERE IS IT FOUND?
All food and vegetables contain some level of vitamin C, but those with the most include citrus fruits and juices, mango, kiwi fruit and cantaloupe, pineapple and berries. Guavas have a whopping 125mg per fruit, papaya contains 95mg and oranges 69mg. Vegetables with the highest amounts of vitamin C include brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, turnip and sweet and white potatoes. Two tomatoes pack in 56mg of the vitamin, kale 60mg per 50g, and a large yellow bell pepper has an impressive 100mg. Some packaged cereals and drinks have vitamin C added to them with the amount usually listed on the label.
But watch out for how you store and cook your food if you want to retain as much of this vitamin in it as possible – doing both for too long can deplete the amount drastically. Your body also stores less vitamin C if you smoke or drink a lot of alcohol.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I TAKE?
Because vitamin C is water soluble, which means any excessive amount is flushed out in urine, it is very rare for anyone to overdose on it. But it is recommended that people take no more than 2,000 mg per day to avoid getting an upset stomach. It is more worrying not to have enough of the vitamin as this can lead to anaemia, bleeding gums, decreased wound healing, nosebleeds, weight gain due to a slower metabolism, and painful joints. In its severest form, vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy which makes you feel lethargic and causes muscle pain and a breakout of red dots on the skin.
The amount of vitamin C you need daily depends on your age. The recommended amounts are 75mg for male teens, 65mg for female teens, 90mg for male adults, 75mg for female adults, 85mg for pregnant women and 120mg for breastfeeding women.
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