What do you do when you feel a cold coming on? If you’re like many, you reach for an extra dose of vitamin C to keep the sniffles at bay. And while vitamin C won’t prevent it, research has shown that it’s a powerful immune-booster that will shorten the duration—and limit the severity—of the common cold. But that’s just one of the many benefits of this powerful nutrient.
Vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, is one of the body’s key antioxidants. It’s a water-soluble essential vitamin, meaning that it needs to be consumed daily because the body can’t produce or store it on its own. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables, so if you’re eating too many processed foods or not enough produce, it’s likely you’re not getting enough.
Vitamin C supports the immune response by aiding in the production and function of white blood cells which help protect the body from disease. They release oxygen radicals into the body to fight off toxins, but when left unchecked, unstable free radical cells will attack healthy cells and tissues. Vitamin C helps balance these radicals, stopping unnecessary damage in its tracks.
And while a healthy immune system is essential to your overall wellness, vitamin C plays a major role in many of your body’s other systems, including:
· Aiding in iron absorption and preventing iron deficiency
· Synthesizing collagen to build connective tissue (leading to faster wound healing and a more youthful appearance)
· Protecting cells from oxidative stress and chronic disease
· Helping maintain healthy cartilage, bones, and teeth
· Supporting a healthy stress response
· Vitamin C may also help lower cancer risk, improve cardiovascular health, and keep your memory and cognitive function sharp as you age.
Vitamin C Deficiency vs. Vitamin C Inadequacy
True vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, a condition marked by extreme fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding, and tooth loss. Cases are relatively rare today as we understand how easy it is to prevent it, but vitamin C inadequacy is far more common. Symptoms include rough, dry, or bumpy skin; easy bruising; slow wound healing, fatigue and/or low mood; and poor immunity. In addition to a limited diet, other risk factors for vitamin C inadequacy include:
· Smoking and/or exposure to secondhand smoke
· Air pollution
· Malabsorption due to chronic gastrointestinal disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
· Type 2 diabetes
· Cancer treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy
For Best Results, Eat the Rainbow
So, what produce packs the biggest vitamin C punch? While oranges are often touted as vitamin C all-stars (weighing in at 51 mg per fruit), there are actually a number of fruits and veggies that contain just as much, if not more. They key is in eating a wide, colorful variety, and enjoying them cooked as well as raw, as cooking naturally reduces the amount of vitamin C they contain. Here are just a few options to help you get more vitamin C into your meals:
· 1 cup of raw red bell pepper: 117.5 mg
· 1 cup of raw green bell pepper: 95.7 mg
· 1 cup of strawberries: 89 mg
· 1 cup of papaya: 87 mg
· 1 cup raw kale: 80 mg
· 1 cup pineapple 78.9 mg
· 1 cup of Brussels sprouts: 74.8 mg
· 1 medium kiwi: 71 mg (plus a great source of potassium!)
· 1 cup mango: 60 mg
· 1 cup raw cauliflower: 51.6 mg
· ½ cup cooked broccoli: 51 mg
In addition to eating a colorful variety of raw and cooked fruits and vegetables, you can up your vitamin C intake by eating fermented veggies like sauerkraut and kimchi. The fermentation process not only boosts the amount of vitamin C they contain, but provides a dose of gut-healthy bacteria as well.
As for orange (and other fruit) juice, it’s best to leave it on the shelf. Store-bought juice tends to be high in sugar, which can negate the immune-boosting benefits of the vitamin C it contains. Add a squeeze of citrus to your water or unsweetened tea, instead.
For optimal health, experts recommend going above and beyond 200 mg a day from fruits and vegetables. But if you find that this isn’t possible, if you tend to pick up every cold and/or flu, if you smoke, or if you have any of the other risk factors or illnesses, using a supplement will provide the additional support you require.
If you suspect vitamin C inadequacy may be an issue for you, whether due to diet, lifestyle, or illness, contact me. I can help you make good choices that lead to lasting benefits.