Your Guide to Vitamin C: What You Need to Know About This Beneficial Nutrient

Posted by Kayla Phillips on

Your body requires certain nutrients daily to perform at its best. One of those nutrients is vitamin C. Although it’s present in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other foods, vitamin C is under consumed in the United States.  So why is getting enough so important?

What Is Vitamin C, and Why Do I Need It?

Also called ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and assists the body in many other ways.  “Vitamin C helps the body repair and regenerate tissues, and may help decrease total and 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides,” says Kate McGowan, RDN, a dietitian in Brooklyn, New York.

Additionally, combining vitamin C with plant-based iron helps you absorb more of the iron from your food. For instance, you could add a squeeze of lemon juice, which offers vitamin C, to a salad containing spinach and lentils, which are plant sources of iron.

Your body is unable to synthesize vitamin C on its own — and so you must get it through foods in which it’s naturally present or those to which it’s been added. Vitamin C is also available in the form of supplements.  

How Much Vitamin C Is Necessary for My Body?

The amount of vitamin C you need varies depending on gender and age. Based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), or the average daily level of intake deemed sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of most healthy people, a 1- to 3-year-old child needs 15 milligrams (mg), a 4- to 8-year-old child requires 25 mg, and a 9- to 13-year-old child needs 45 mg.  The RDAs for vitamin C increase with age: A 14- to 18-year-old teenage girl requires 65 mg, a boy in the same age range needs 75 mg, a woman requires 75 mg, and a man needs 90 mg. (3) A pregnant woman needs 85 mg, while a lactating woman requires 120 mg. 

While these RDAs are clearly defined, some research suggests that certain populations could benefit from additional vitamin C. For instance, regularly supplementing with at least 200 mg or more vitamin C could reduce the duration of the common cold, according to a review of studies published in January 2013 in the database Cochrane. Vitamin C supplementation may be particularly helpful to athletes. The same review showed that supplementation for athletes who experience short periods of extreme physical stress — such as skiing or running a marathon — may cut the risk of the common cold in half.  

Which Foods Naturally Provide the Vitamin C I Need?

Many fruits and vegetables boast an excellent amount of vitamin C. “Most people associate oranges with vitamin C,” says McGowan. “That is great, but I like to switch it up! 

It’s important to note that vitamin C is heat sensitive, so the vitamin C benefit of these foods is best when they’re eaten raw or unheated.

Should I Take a Vitamin C Supplement (and Can I Overdose)?

“If you are eating a balanced diet, most likely you do not need to take a vitamin C supplement,” says McGowan. Vitamin C is water-soluble — meaning the body utilizes it but doesn’t store it.  “For most healthy individuals, the body can only hold and use about 200 to 250 mg of vitamin C a day, and any excess is lost through urine,” explains McGowan.

Despite this, you can overconsume vitamin C. This is most likely to occur with supplement use, so make sure your daily intake falls below the tolerable upper limit (UL), or the maximum daily intake that’s unlikely to result in negative health effects.  That amount for a 1- to 3-year-old child is 400 mg, while it’s 650 mg for a 4- to 8-year-old child, 1,200 for a 9- to 12-year-old child, and 1,800 mg for a 14- to 18-year-old teenager. The UL for an adult is 2,000 mg.  Keep in mind that if you take a multivitamin, you’re getting vitamin C there, too — don’t forget to add that amount to your total supplemental intake.

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