Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a nutrient that we often associate with supporting our immunity, but it actually does a lot more than that. Let’s talk about the many ways that vitamin C benefits us and how and when we should eat or take our vitamin C.
What makes vitamin C an essential nutrient?
First, as with many vitamins, the body can’t produce its own vitamin C. Secondly, the body can’t store a significant amount of vitamin C. Though very little is stored, the highest concentrations are in the white blood cells, eyes, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and brain. Any vitamin C that isn’t quickly used by our body gets excreted in our urine since it is a water-soluble vitamin. Remember these two factors for later.
How does vitamin C benefit you?
- It is a powerful antioxidant that can help neutralize harmful free radicals. Some of vitamin C’s antioxidant properties have been linked to reduced cancer risk. For example, vitamin C has been linked to limiting the formation of carcinogens in the body. Also, studies have found an inverse association between dietary vitamin C intake and cancers of the lung, breast, colon or rectum, stomach, oral cavity, larynx or pharynx, and esophagus. (1)
- Vitamin C is needed to make the powerful fiber collagen. Collagen is a fibrous protein in connective tissue that is used throughout various systems in the body: skin, nervous, immune, bone, cartilage, blood, and others. Without enough vitamin C, your body will struggle to make and regenerate these critical cells and tissues. (1)
- As we learned earlier, vitamin C is found at higher concentrations in white blood cells, which play a critical role in our immune system. Additionally, vitamin C may help reduce the severity of allergic reactions. (3)
- Vitamin C improves the absorption of non-heme iron, the type of iron found in plant foods such as leafy greens. (4) Having vitamin C at the same time as non-heme iron can help boost your body’s iron absorption.
- Finally, vitamin C helps make several hormones and chemical messengers used in the brain and nerves (5) and plays an important role in a number of metabolic functions, including activation of the B vitamin folic acid. (3)
How much vitamin C do you need?
The key is consistent daily intake. We learned earlier that our bodies can’t make or store vitamin C very well, which means we need to get this nutrient daily. And how much vitamin C is enough?
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C
|9–13 years||45 mg||45 mg|
|14–18 years||75 mg||65 mg||80 mg||115 mg|
|19+ years||90 mg||75 mg||85 mg||120 mg|
|Smokers:||For Individuals who smoke, 35 mg is recommended (1)|
Though meeting the RDA does not require supplements, study results indicate that supplementation with 1,250 mg/day ascorbic acid produces about two times higher vitamin C concentrations than those seen with consumption of 200–300 mg/day ascorbic acid from vitamin C-rich foods. (1) This means that our bodies can absorb and use a lot more of this health-protecting nutrient than the RDA amount lists. Another call out is that the upper tolerable limit is capped at 2,000 mg for adults. Make sure you are not taking more than that amount.
How can I get the most vitamin C out of food?
While there are great sources of vitamin C in a healthy diet, this water-soluble vitamin can be destroyed by heat and light. So, keep in mind that high-heat cooking temperatures, long cook times, or freezer storage can break down the vitamin. Because it is water-soluble, vitamin C can also seep into cooking liquid and be lost if the cooking liquids are not eaten. Quick-heating methods or those using as little water as possible, such as microwave-steaming, stir-frying, or blanching, can help preserve the vitamin. I also recommend choosing vitamin C-rich foods at peak ripeness and eating them raw if you can. When you can’t eat these foods regularly, make sure you are boosting your health with vitamin C supplementation. You don’t want to miss out on what this vitamin has to offer.