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Publication #FCS8702

Facts about Vitamin C1

Linda B. Bobroff and Isabel Valentín-Oquendo2

Why do we need vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, has a wide variety of uses in the body. It helps to slow down or prevent cell damage. It is needed to maintain healthy body tissues and the immune system. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron from plant foods.

What happens if we don't get enough vitamin C?

Vitamin C is found in many foods we eat and deficiency is rare. Scurvy, the disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, was common generations ago. Seamen who lived at sea for months at a time and ate no fresh fruits or vegetables often got scurvy. Today, scurvy is rare in the U.S., but not getting enough vitamin C may lead to anemia, bleeding gums, infections, dry and splitting hair, and poor wound healing.

Figure 1. 

Fresh herbs are good sources of vitamin C. One tablespoon of parsley provides 5 mg of vitamin C.


Credit:

MKucova/iStock/Thinkstock.com


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

How much vitamin C do we need?

The following table lists recommended daily intakes of vitamin C. People who smoke need an additional 35 milligrams of vitamin C every day. Three large strawberries provide 33 milligrams of vitamin C.

Table 1. 

Recommended daily intakes (mg/day) of vitamin C by life stage

Life Stage

Amount

(mg/day)

Men, ages 19+

90

Women, ages 19+

75

Pregnancy

Ages 18 and younger

Ages 19 and older

80

85

Breastfeeding

Ages 18 and younger

Ages 19 and older

115

120

mg = milligrams of vitamin C

How can we get enough vitamin C?

The best way to get enough vitamin C is through foods rather than supplements. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources. Rich sources of this vitamin include citrus fruits and citrus fruit juices, sweet peppers, papayas, and strawberries.

Table 2. 

Food sources of vitamin C

Food and Serving Size

Vitamin C

(mg/serving)

Red or yellow sweet pepper, raw, ½ cup

95

Orange, 1 medium

70

Kiwifruit, 1 medium

65

Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup

50

Strawberries, fresh, sliced, ½ cup

50

Cabbage, cooked, ½ cup

30

Cantaloupe, ½ cup

30

Potato, baked, 1 medium

17

mg = milligrams

Figure 2. 

All bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C, but red and yellow peppers are the richest sources. Half a cup of red peppers has 95 mg and half a cup of green peppers has 60 mg of vitamin C.


Credit:

Dmytro Potapchuk/iStock/Thinkstock.com


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

What about fortified foods?

Some juices and cereals have vitamin C added. The amount of vitamin C in each product varies. Check the nutrition label to see how much vitamin C the product contributes to your daily need.

How should foods be prepared to retain vitamin C?

Vitamin C is easily destroyed during preparation, cooking, or storage. To retain vitamin C, follow these tips:

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables as soon as possible after buying them.

  • Cut vegetables just before eating or cooking.

  • Cook vitamin C-rich foods quickly in as little water as possible.

  • Microwave, steam, or stir-fry to retain the most vitamin C; do not overcook.

Figure 3. 

Just one medium size orange has almost enough vitamin C to fulfill the daily needs of an adult woman.


Credit:

Viktar Malyshchyts/iStock/Thinkstock.com


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

What about supplements?

Healthy individuals who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rarely need vitamin C supplements. Contrary to popular opinion, taking vitamin C supplements does not prevent colds. However, some studies show that vitamin C supplements may decrease the duration of a cold.

How much is too much?

If you take a supplement, do not get more than 2000 mg/day of vitamin C from foods and supplements. Although excess vitamin C is mostly eliminated in the urine, high doses can cause headaches, frequent urination, diarrhea, and nausea. People with a history of kidney stones should avoid high levels of vitamin C.

Where can I get more information?

The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agent at your county Extension office may have more written information and nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, a registered dietitian (RD) can provide reliable information to you.

Reliable nutrition information may be found on the Internet at the following sites:

http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu

http://www.nutrition.gov

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/vitamins.html

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8702, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date June 2001. Revised January 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/.

2.

Linda B. Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, professor, and Isabel Valentin-Oquendo, MS, RD, LD/N, former assistant and curriculum coordinator, Foods and Nutrition, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.