Foods with vitamin C are easy to find if you know where to look. And that’s a good thing, considering how important the nutrient is for your health.
You might already know that vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, supports a healthy immune system. But the health benefits of vitamin C go way beyond launching strong attacks against germs.
“Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant,” Caroline Green, RD, LD, a South Carolina–based registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor, tells SELF. Antioxidants, as SELF reported previously, help neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals. When free radicals are left unchecked, they can damage cells through a process called oxidative stress, which can set the stage for various conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Higher consumption of antioxidants may lower the risk of contracting these diseases.
Your tissues and skin need the stuff too. Vitamin C, which is a water soluble vitamin, is a key player in the formation of blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and the skin-smoothing protein collagen. “In fact, it’s perhaps even more important in collagen formation than protein is,” Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe for Survival, tells SELF. (Though when you’re talking about vitamin C for skin, topical vitamin C serums can also give you a boost.)
The body also relies on vitamin C to max out absorption of minerals like iron (particularly from plant-based sources), so it’s a good idea to pair the two on your plate when you can. Think lemon vinaigrette on your spinach salad or a side of strawberries with your black bean soup.
So how much vitamin C should you shoot for each day? Well, it varies. People assigned female at birth should get 75 mg of vitamin C per day, though the recommended dietary allowance jumps to 85 mg during pregnancy and 120 mg while breastfeeding, per the NIH. Those assigned male at birth should get 90 mg.
And while that might sound like a lot, the vast majority of us are getting to these dietary allowances with no problem. “It’s fairly rare to have a vitamin C deficiency,” Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, a registered dietician nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist based in Los Angeles, tells SELF. (Severe cases of vitamin D deficiency results in a condition called scurvy, which causes anemia, poor wound healing, bleeding gums, and bruising.)
In other words, you probably don’t need to make much of an effort to get your vitamin C fill. But if you want to make sure your bases are covered (or are wondering whether trying to get more is better), here’s what you should know.
How can I get vitamin C naturally?
Most experts agree that healthy eating means meeting your nutrient needs from food sources as much as possible, and the same applies to vitamin C. “The easy answer is, get more fruits and veggies!” Green says. “Consuming plenty of colorful plant foods daily should keep you covered when it comes to vitamin C levels.”