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Vitamin C

Why We Need It

Vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, also is known as ascorbic acid. It has a wide variety of uses in the body, including helping to slow down or prevent cell damage. It also is needed to maintain healthy body tissues and the immune system. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from plant foods.

Recommended Daily Intakes of Vitamin C

Age Vitamin C (mg/day)
Infants birth-6 months 40
6 months-1 year 0
Children 1-3 years 15
4-8 years 25
Males 9-13 years 45
14-18 years 75
19 years and over 90
Females 9-13 years 45
14-18 years 65
19 years and over 75
pregnant ≤ 18 80
19-50 85
breastfeeding ≤ 18 115
19-50 120
mg = milligrams

Source: adapted from the Dietary Reference Intakes series, National Academies Press. Copyright 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, by the National Academies of Sciences.

People who smoke need an additional 35 mg of vitamin C every day.

Sources

The best way to get enough vitamin C is through foods rather than supplements. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources.

Sources of Vitamin C

Food Vitamin C
(mg/ serving)
red or yellow sweet pepper, raw, medium 225
papaya, 1 medium 190
strawberries, halved, 1 cup 90
orange, 1 medium 80
cantaloupe, ¼ medium melon 50
potato, baked, 1 medium 20
mg = milligrams
oz = ounces

Vegetarians should include a vitamin C-rich food at every meal to help increase iron absorption, since the iron in vegetarian foods is not well absorbed.

Some juices and cereals have vitamin C added. The amount of vitamin C in each product varies. Check the nutrition label to see how much vitamin C the product contributes to your daily need.

Ways to Retain It

Vitamin C is easily destroyed during preparation, cooking, or storage. To retain vitamin C, follow these tips:

  • Eat raw fruits and vegetables as soon as possible after buying them.
  • Cut vegetables just before eating or cooking.
  • Cook vitamin C-rich foods quickly in as little water as possible.
  • Microwave, steam, or stir-fry to retain the most vitamin C.

If We Don’t Get Enough

A deficiency of vitamin C is rare, because it is found in many foods we eat. Scurvy, the disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, was common a few generations ago. At that time it was prevalent among seamen who lived on dried and salted foods for months at a time. Today scurvy is rare in the United States, but not getting enough vitamin C can lead to anemia, bleeding gums, infections, and poor wound healing.

Supplements

Healthy individuals who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rarely need vitamin C supplements. Taking vitamin C supplements does not prevent colds. Some studies show that vitamin C supplements may decrease the duration of a cold.

High Doses

Do not get more than 2000 mg/day of vitamin C from both foods and supplements. Although excess vitamin C is mostly eliminated in the urine, high doses can cause headaches, frequent urination, diarrhea and nausea. People with a history of kidney stones should avoid high levels of vitamin C.

For More Information

The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agent at your county Extension office may have more written information and nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, your doctor, health care provider, or a registered dietitian (RD) can provide reliable information.

Reliable nutrition information may be found on the Internet at the following sites:
http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/
http://virtual.clemson.edu/groups/NIRC/
http://www.eatright.org
http://www.nutrition.gov
http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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