Vitamin C - Learn About Vitamins & Minerals

vitamin cVitamin 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 urine.

What food source is the nutrient found in?
The best sources of vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits such as:

  • oranges
  • orange juice
  • grapefruit
  • and tangerines
  • melons
  • kiwi
  • strawberries

Vegetables such as:

  • broccoli
  • sweet green and red peppers
  • potatoes (with skin)
  • tomatoes
  • 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 vessels.
  • 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.

Information
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 the disease.

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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