Although temperatures are warming up across the country, we still need to arm our bodies with defenses against colds, flus, and even early allergies. Luckily, the supermarket’s produce aisle is piled high with fruits and vegetables that boast high levels of vitamin C and the many benefits that go along with this potent antioxidant.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is water soluble, therefore easily excreted from the body when consumed in excess. It's so critical for the metabolism of living creatures that almost all mammals use their own cells to make it. Humans, guinea pigs, gorillas, bats, chimps, and birds are some of the few animals that cannot make vitamin C on their own and thus need to eat foods that contain it.
There have been claims that vitamin C relieves stress, and can help you lose weight – but there are few facts to back up these claims. In terms of relieving stress, vitamin C is used up faster in "stressful situations" i.e. smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, everyday detoxification, and the variety of other stresses we encounter on a daily basis. All types of stress can indicate a need for including more vitamin C rich foods in your diet.
One of the most important benefits of vitamin C is the formation of collagen, the basis of connective tissue in skin, capillary walls, bones, and teeth. Wounds heal faster and blood vessels are healthier when our bodies receive adequate vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy, which results in lesions on the skin and mucous membranes (all collagen related). Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron (from plant sources) and continued research also shows that C stimulates the immune system. Its powerful antioxidants protect cells from damage from pollution, smoking, or exposure to other carcinogens.
Head to the produce aisle for vitamin C rich foods! Foods are your best bet when it comes to vitamin C and the associated bioflavonoids that help recycle the vitamin C in your body. The richest sources of vitamin C are sweet peppers, black currants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and turnip greens. Vitamin C is heat sensitive, so the longer you cook veggies, the more the vitamin decreases; raw vegetables contain the most. The faster the cooking method the better! Other prime sources for vitamin C include papayas and mangos, pineapple, grapefruit and tangerines, kiwi, cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon. Other vegetables high in vitamin C are okra, winter and summer squash, cabbage, dark leafy greens, cauliflower, peas, sweet potatoes, and asparagus.
Despite the image of Americans drinking a glass of orange juice with breakfast each day, more than 50 percent of us do not get nearly enough vitamin C. The recommended daily intake ranges from 45 to 95 mg/day — but many health professionals recommend much more than this especially from food sources.
Adding vitamin C to your diet is as delicious as it is easy. Although oranges and orange juice are the obvious, consider adding one-third cup of sliced red bell pepper, or ¾ cup green pepper or 1 cup lightly steamed broccoli or 1 cup of strawberries to your daily meals. Keep in mind that the amount of vitamin C found in food varies greatly. In general, unripe food is much lower in vitamin C than ripe, but provided that the food is ripe, the vitamin C content is higher when the food is picked at its peak freshness therefore choose seasonal and local foods when possible or head to the frozen aisle as most frozen fruits and veggies are packed at peak freshness. Do note that those veggies that have been cooked prior to freezing may have vitamin C losses.