Vitamin C is a precious nutrient that deserves our attention all year round, but especially in the colder months. In its natural form it provides a myriad of important health benefits, and ingesting the vitamin is like transferring condensed sunlight from a plant and releasing it into your body. While vitamin tablets may seem like the easiest way to get our daily dose of vitamin C, excess amounts are lost through urine, which means that our levels need to be topped up regularly. Fresh, local produce - eaten at regular intervals throughout the day - is your best bet in terms of securing a healthy vitamin C intake. The vitamin C in food differs greatly from the semi-synthetic ascorbic acid available in supplement form, and it lacks a number of other factors that help deliver the vitamin's powerful benefits.
You probably know that vitamin C boosts your immunity and prevents scurvy. But what else does it do? Here's a brief reminder:
- It's our primary longevity nutrient that helps to prevent cell damage and which improves the lifespan of our body's cells.
- It protects immunity and helps keep infections and diseases at bay.
- It helps with the absorption of iron.
- It helps convert food into energy.
- It supports the body in times of stress and fatigue.
- It helps make neurotransmitters that regulate brain function and mood.
- It helps the growth and repair of tissues, and is the major supplier of collagen which helps to heal wounds.
- It assists in the prevention and healing of bleeding gums.
- It's a potent blood purifier.
- It's an antioxidant that serves to heal and protect against damage, for example repairing the lenses in the eyes, removing cholesterol from the blood, and protecting DNA.
Food sources of vitamin C
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 100mg per day. This is the minimum amount required to prevent deficiencies and should be automatically achieved by a healthy diet. The recommended 2 - 3 fruits and 3 - 5 vegetables per day ensures sufficient intake.
So, tuck into these top vitamin C sources:
- Guava. This delicious fruit is an underestimated source of vitamin C. In fact, just one guava offers double the RDA for vitamin C. It also acts as a lymphatic and digestive stimulant.
- Kiwi. A rich source of vitamin C, kiwis help remove excess build-up of sodium in the body, and they contain enzymes that promote good digestion. One kiwi supplies the RDA for vitamin C.
- Papaya (paw paw). This fruit contains a natural digestive enzyme called papain, which helps with the breakdown of food, especially proteins. It's rich in vitamin C and also helps to encourage a clear skin. Meet your RDA for vitamin C with half a papaya.
- Citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines and clementines rank high in terms of vitamin-C content. Include the pith and peel of the fruit to get the full vitamin C benefit (e.g. in smoothies). Interestingly, many years ago British sailors prevented scurvy (a result of vitamin C deficiency) by drinking lime juice. Roughly 3 limes equal our RDA for vitamin C.
- Cabbage. Sailors also turned to sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) to prevent scurvy on long voyages. We now know that cabbage, especially sauerkraut, also has high vitamin C levels.
- The pepper family:
- Bell peppers. All varieties are rich sources of vitamin C, but the red and yellow kind, eaten raw, are particularly potent. Note that over 30% of the vitamin C is lost when a green pepper becomes old or when it's cooked. Meet your RDA for vitamin C with Â¾ cup of raw peppers.
- Chilli peppers. These peppers contain richer amounts of vitamin C, gram for gram, than citrus (2 chillies are equal to 1 orange). Avoid the white ribs and seeds of the chilli, and thus the potent sting of the capsaicin, and note that dried chillies contain almost no vitamin C.
- Kale. Although its primary vitamin is beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), one cup of kale will meet your RDA for vitamin C, so try to eat it regularly.
- Broccoli. This anti-cancer superfood is low in calories, but high in fibre and other health-giving nutrients. One cup of broccoli also meets the RDA for vitamin C. Note, however, that boiling broccoli reduces these levels by half.
- The berry family. Berries are jam-packed with nutrients and are exceptional sources of vitamin C. Roughly 1 cup of mulberries, cranberries, gooseberries, raspberries or strawberries contains the RDA for vitamin C. Remember that all berries, especially strawberries, are part of the "dirty dozen" of highly contaminated sources of produce. Use ripely picked, wild berries as quickly as possible to obtain as much vitamin C as possible.
- Pineapple. One cup of pineapple is equal to the RDA for vitamin C. The fruit also contains bromelain, a digestive enzyme and anti-inflammatory that eases pain.
- Brussels sprouts. Eat just eight sprouts to meet your RDA for vitamin C.
- Cauliflower. One small cauliflower head supplies the RDA for vitamin C.
- Other relatively good food sources of vitamin C include:
- Potatoes with the skin
- Melons, e.g. cantaloupes, watermelons
- Green leafy vegetables, e.g. Swiss chard, spinach
- Peas (which retain their vitamin C levels when cooked)
- Botanical sources of vitamin C:
There are a few concentrated, plant-based sources of vitamin C that are worth a mention. Camucamu berry, acerola cherry, amla and rose hips can be obtained in powder or tablet form, and are exceptionally rich sources of vitamin C. They're a good way of boosting your vitamin C levels if you don't have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
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