Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

How much you need each day:

  • 40mg for adult women and men

Why you need it:

Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen, which constitutes a major part of the connective tissue. This means it’s important for healthy skin, bones, cartilage and teeth and helps to heal wounds.

Vitamin C also helps to prevent anaemia by assisting the absorption of iron.

This vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant and so can help to protect the body against the harmful effects of cell-damaging free radicals that may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Good food sources:

Fruit and vegetables are the main sources of vitamin C.

Good sources include blackcurrants, berries, green leafy vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach and broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits and their juices.

Too little:

Vitamin C is water-soluble and cannot be stored in the body, so it’s essential that vitamin C rich foods are consumed on a daily basis.

A deficiency can lead to a loss of appetite, muscle cramps, dry skin, split hairs, bleeding gums, bruising, nose bleeds, infections and poor would healing.

In severe cases scurvy develops, although this is uncommon in Britain.

Top tip:

Vitamin C is easily destroyed so take care when preparing and cooking vegetables to minimise losses.

Keep vegetables in large pieces, prepare them just before they are to be cooked rather than leaving them to stand in water and steam rather than boil them. Cook them for the minimum amount of time too.

If you do decide to boil veg, don’t add salt and use the cooking water to make gravies or sauces. Avoid adding bicarbonate of soda to the water too, as it speeds up the rate at which vitamin C is destroyed.

Eat veg as soon as possible after cooking to prevent further losses, which occur when they’re kept warm.

Finally, frozen veg often have a higher vitamin C content than poor quality 'fresh' produce because they’re prepared shortly after being picked.

How to get enough:

Food Vitamin C Content (mg)
1/2 red pepper 112
200ml glass of orange juice 78
100g fresh strawberries 77
90g boiled broccoli 40
1 kiwi fruit 35
1 tomato 14

Vitamin C from Food and Juice Sources is Best

Supplements may provide a quick and easy way to top up levels of vitamin C, but new research shows that popping a pill may not be as effective as drinking a glass of Orange Juice.

Researchers from Italy gave seven volunteers three different drinks – 300ml of blood orange juice containing 150mg of vitamin C; a drink supplemented with the same amount of vitamin C; and sugared water that contained no vitamin C.

Blood samples were taken regularly. Unsurprisingly, levels of vitamin C increased after drinking both the OJ and the fortified drink.

The blood samples were then exposed to a substance that’s known to cause damage to the DNA through the process of oxidation.

The researchers found that the degree of damage was far less in the blood samples taken from those volunteers who had drunk the orange juice.

Serena Guarnieri who led the research says, “It appears that vitamin C is not the only chemical responsible for antioxidant protection; there is something more at work here.”

Dietitian says

This is only a tiny study but it confirms what many health experts have been saying for years – that it’s better to get our nutrients in the form that Mother Nature intended them rather than from pills.

More and more research is revealing that it’s the unique combination of nutrients in food that provides the most protection against disease.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and so may help to protect against free radical damage, lowering the risk of many different diseases including heart disease and certain cancers. But increasingly, it’s the vitamin C in food that appears to have the greatest effect.

Boost your intake of this vitamin by opting for citrus fruits and their juices, berries, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, peppers, green leafy veg and new potatoes.

Let’s face it, they’re also far more tasty than popping a pill.

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