Vitamin C - Learn About Vitamins & Minerals
C is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that it can be dissolved
in water. Water-soluble vitamins are carried throughout the body
in the bloodstream. They are, for the most part, not stored in the
body. The body uses what it needs and the rest is passed in the
What food source is the nutrient found in?
The best sources of vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. Citrus
fruits such as:
- orange juice
- and tangerines
Vegetables such as:
- sweet green and red peppers
- potatoes (with skin)
- brussels sprouts
Cabbage and many dark green leafy vegetables are all good sources
of vitamin C. Vitamin C can be easily lost in foods when they are
cooked or handled improperly.
Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are the best choices for
getting vitamin C. Canned vegetables lose vitamin C during processing.
If the canning water is thrown out, even more is lost. Freezing
has little effect on Vitamin C. Cooking vegetables too long at high
heats, for example boiling, can destroy vitamin C. Most of the vitamin
C is left in the cooking water, which is usually thrown away. Cutting
and slicing fruits and vegetables leaves a greater surface exposed
to air and light, which will also destroy vitamin C. Raw fruits
and vegetables should be eaten shortly after they were cut. They
should be cooked only for a short time in a small amount of water
or by steaming. Aging and leaving fruits and vegetables at room
temperature too long can also destroy vitamin C.
How does the nutrient affect the body?
Vitamin C is important to many body functions. It helps the body:
- build and maintain collagen, which are fibers that make up the
tissue between tendons, ligaments, bones, and cartilage.
- maintain healthy bones, teeth, gums, red blood cells, and blood
- heal wounds, bruises, and fractures.
- absorb iron from plant food sources.
- protect from infection by keeping the immune system healthy.
- reduce some of the risk of certain chronic diseases by acting
as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants help the body fight the effects of free radicals,
which can damage the body.
Vitamin C has a long history. It was used as a cure for scurvy.
Scurvy is a disease that causes open sores in the mouth, loosening
of teeth, and soft gums. In the 1700s, it was discovered that sailors
who often consumed lime juice did not get scurvy. Sailors who did
not consume lime juice had a 50 percent chance of dying from scurvy.
It was not until 200 years later that vitamin C was found to prevent
Severe deficiency, going for a very long time without vitamin C,
can lead to scurvy.
Severe deficiency and scurvy are rare in the United States. Poor
vitamin C intake is more common. Alcohol intake, stress, smoking,
poor intake of fruits and vegetables, and chronic illness can contribute
to vitamin C deficiency. Signs of deficiency include:
- inflamed gums.
- slow wound healing.
- stomach disorders.
- reduced resistance to colds and infections.
- skin problems.
Large doses of vitamin C can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, or
kidney stones. The upper levels for vitamin C is 2,000 milligrams
(mg) per day for adults. People should not routinely go above the
set upper levels for vitamins and minerals. An upper level is not
the recommended amount to take. It is the maximum amount of a vitamin
or mineral that is likely to cause no health risks. Some scientists
think not enough is known about mega dosing, or taking extremely
high doses of vitamins, to claim that it has health benefits. There
is debate if mega doses of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can
help decrease the risk for chronic diseases. Much of the current
information is conflicting, therefore, more research is needed.
The recommended dietary allowances, or RDAs, for vitamin C were
recently increased. Levels were increased to provide maximum health
benefits. Levels were raised from 60 mg daily to 75 mg per day for
women and 90 mg per day for men. Smokers are advised to take an
extra 35 mg daily. This is because smoking depletes the body of
some vitamin C. Pregnant and nursing women need slightly more, too.
Many people do not get enough vitamin C. Thirty-nine percent of
men and 43 percent of women fall short of the recommended amount.
Because vitamin C cannot be stored in the body; it is important
to eat foods high in vitamin C. Eating a well-balanced diet, including
at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, should
provide all the body needs.
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