While most of us think of citrus fruit and orange juice as the best sources of vitamin C, there are actually many other options for vitamin C intake that are much healthier. In this article, we will explore the benefits of vitamin C, how much you need, and seven surprising sources of this essential vitamin.
Why do we need vitamin C?
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin that we must get from our diet (our bodies can't make it), and that plays many important roles to keep us healthy throughout our lifetime.
It can help to control infections, heal wounds, absorb iron, make collagen, create hormones, and more. One of the most potent health benefits of vitamin C relates to its antioxidant properties. It is able to combat free radical damage, which is something that can contribute to serious health problems like heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer.[2,3]
The health effects of vitamin C may help to protect you against common health conditions like cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts.
How much vitamin C do we need?
The average adult man needs 90 mg/day and the average adult woman needs 75 mg/day of vitamin C.[1,3]
People who are at particularly high risk for low vitamin C and who may need even more of this vitamin include the elderly, those who smoke or who are exposed to second-hand smoke, people who are on restricted diets, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.[3,4]
Luckily, there are many foods that contain high amounts of vitamin C. If we include these in our diet, we can get plenty of vitamin C each day to keep our bodies healthy. In fact, if you consume between five and nine servings of fruits and vegetables into your day, you can get as much as 200 mg of vitamin C.
7 surprising food sources of vitamin C
Most of us associate oranges with vitamin C. But there are many other common fruits and vegetables that are packed with vitamin C and that are much healthier sources.
1. Red pepper
Red peppers contain a whopping 95 mg of vitamin C per serving, or 106% the daily value. With just 1/2 cup of this sweet and colorful veggie, you can get more than enough vitamin C for your entire day.
Red peppers are easy to incorporate into your weekly meals. Try chopping them raw and adding them to a fresh salad, sautéing them with onion to make fajitas, or grilling them on the barbecue.
I guess all those parents out there were right all along – we should eat our broccoli! Broccoli contains 51 mg of vitamin C per 1/2 cup serving (57% your daily value).
Broccoli is great steamed, roasted in the oven, and added to stir fries. It also makes a tasty snack when eaten raw with hummus or other healthy dips.
Citrus fruits aren't the only stars when it comes to vitamin C-rich fruits. Strawberries can give you over half of your daily value of vitamin C, with about 49 mg per serving. Other berries like raspberries and blueberries can also provide vitamin C. Berries are a healthy fruit choice as they are full of nutrients and antioxidants but very low in sugar and carbs.
Strawberries are a tasty treat all on their own that can be eaten as a healthy alternative to processed desserts and junk-food snacks. They also go great on a spinach salad or in oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast.
4. Brussel's sprouts
Brussel's sprouts are another source of vitamin C you might not have ever heard of. In one serving, you can get more than 50% of your daily value. And even better, this cruciferous vegetable is loaded with a bunch of other vitamins and nutrients that also support a healthy body.
Brussel's sprouts don't always sound appealing, but if you aren't a big fan of this vegetable then it might mean you just haven't tried all the different ways to prepare them. Try pan frying Brussel's sprouts with balsamic vinegar or roasting them in the oven with olive oil until they get nice and crispy. Even picky eaters can love Brussel's sprouts if they are prepared properly!
Cabbage contains 28 mg of vitamin C in each serving, which is about one-third of your daily value. Another member of the cruciferous vegetable family, cabbage is a leafy green that provides tremendous health benefits.
Cabbage is wonderful eaten fresh and is great for salads (coleslaw, anyone?), but it is also delicious cooked. Try sautéing it or roasting it in the oven with other vegetables you enjoy. Fermented cabbage – also known as sauerkraut – is a great way to eat cabbage that gives you the added benefit of live probiotics.
Did you know that hiding inside just one little kiwi is 64 mg of vitamin C? That's 71% of your daily value! Kiwi is a nutrient-rich fruit that contains fiber and is relatively low in sugar and carbs.
Slice up a kiwi for a snack to replace unhealthy junk food alternatives. Or try it chopped into your breakfast yogurt or oats. You don't even have to peel a kiwi if you don't want to – the skin is actually edible and full of nutrition.
Cantaloupe is another fruit that can help you get in all of your vitamin C daily. It has about 29 mg of vitamin C per serving (32% of your daily value).
Cantaloupe is delicious served fresh with a little lime juice squeezed on top or added to salads for a lightly sweet touch. Some people get creative with this fruit and even puree it to make soup!
A note on cooking and storing vitamin C-rich foods
Keep in mind that vitamin C degrades when foods are heated and when they are exposed to light. So both cooking methods and storage can make a difference in how much vitamin C you end up getting from your food. Vitamin C is also water soluble, meaning it can seep into cooking liquids and get lost in those liquids. Fast heating methods that use little water are best for preserving the most vitamin C in common foods.[2,3,5]
Food sources of vitamin C to stay away from if you have diabetes and prediabetes
Many popular food sources of vitamin C are high in sugar and can cause big spikes in blood glucose levels.
For example, although orange juice gives you more than 100% of your daily value of vitamin C and grapefruit juice gives you 78%, fruit juices like these are also extremely high in sugar. Drinking them can be dangerous for your blood sugars and make your prediabetes or diabetes worse.
Even 100% juice options without added sugars can be comparable to sodas as far as sugar content goes. When you drink even a small amount, you can be eating the equivalent of several teaspoons of sugar.
Canned fruits, fruit jams, dried fruits, fruit drinks, and fruit desserts are other forms of "fruit" that contain much more sugar than fruit does in its raw, fresh form. These foods should be avoided if you have diabetes or prediabetes and want to keep your blood sugars in check.
Finally, potatoes are rich in vitamin C, but due to their high starch content they are not appropriate for a healthy prediabetes or diabetes diet.
You don't have to be limited to oranges and orange juice to get enough vitamin C in your daily diet. Try out the unique alternatives listed above like red peppers, cabbage, kiwi, or broccoli. These are all vitamin C-rich options that add a lot of nutrition to your diet without adding excess sugar or carbs. Experiment and find creative ways to incorporate these foods into your regular meals to ensure you are getting sufficient vitamin C each day.
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