Our bodies can’t produce vitamin C on their own, but this important nutrient has many important health benefits and can be obtained from various food sources.
“The primary function of vitamin C is manufacturing collagen, a main protein substance in the body,” says Abbie Gellman, a registered dietitian, and chef. “Vitamin C is also vital for would repair, healthy gums, and prevention against being easily bruised.”
Additionally, vitamin C helps our bodies with immunity and absorption of other nutrients. It also helps us maintain healthy bones, teeth, and skin and is an antioxidant, which means it fights free radicals that can cause illnesses and accelerate the aging process.
“Eating foods rich in vitamin C has been associated with helping prevent and/or treat a range of health conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the common cold,” Gellman says. “Vitamin C also helps you absorb non-heme iron, which is the type found in plant foods such as leafy greens. We cannot easily absorb non-heme iron, but vitamin C works synergistically to help us absorb the nutrient more easily.”
But is it true that we should load up on vitamin C when we feel a cold coming on? Not necessarily, says registered dietitian Lauren Sharpe. She explains that in a 2013 review of 29 randomized studies involving more than 11,000 participants, taking vitamin C each day did not reduce the risk of getting a cold among the general population.
However, some research shows high doses of vitamin C can decrease the length of the cold symptoms, she says, pointing out that this required substantial doses of 8,000 mg per day. “Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, so any amount that the body doesn’t need (more than 400 mg) will be excreted in the urine,” she says. “In addition, a daily dose of more than 2,000 mg can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea.”
Overall, Sharpe points out that it is not recommended to take high doses of vitamin C without a registered dietitian or medical doctor’s consent. Instead, you’ll want to aim for around 75 mg per day for women or 90 mg per day for men, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Looking for some tasty foods that will help you get enough vitamin C each day? Here are some of the best sources of vitamin C, recommended by Gellman and Sharpe.
Did you know bell peppers are packed with vitamin C? In one cup of red bell peppers, you’ll get around 150 mg of vitamin C. But you don’t need to stick to red, orange, and yellow; even green bell peppers are also great sources of vitamin C. At the same time, you’ll also be getting vitamin A, potassium, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
How to eat: Sliced and added to a salad or dipped in hummus. They’re also great on fajitas, or sautéed and combined with scrambled eggs for breakfast.
As one of the most popular and well-known sources of vitamin C, one medium orange contains about 70 mg of vitamin C.
How to eat: Press for fresh-squeezed orange juice—if you haven’t tried this yet, you’re missing out. Add to breakfast smoothies, toss in your bag for an easy-to-pack snack, use the juice for muffins, olive oil cake, or other citrusy baked goods.
Kale contains somewhere around 85 mg of vitamin C for every one-cup serving. A true nutritional powerhouse, kale is also loaded with vitamins A and K, and folate. You really can’t go wrong with kale.
How to eat: In salads, roasted as kale chips, tossed in smoothies, added to a soup.
It’s hard to deny broccoli’s nutritional benefits, with each cup containing 88mg of vitamin C, among other important nutrients like fiber, protein, and potassium.
How to eat: Roasted and added to pasta or grain bowls, sliced raw and dipped in hummus.
One cup of cooked collard greens contains around 35 mg of vitamin C.
How to eat: Use raw collard greens in place of a wrap for veggie wraps (pro tip: so good when paired with a Thai peanut sauce), shred raw in a salad, sauté with olive oil and the spices of your choice, braise in a vinegar-based ham stock.
Small but nutritionally dense, Brussels sprouts contain 74 mg of vitamin C per cup.
How to eat: Roast with olive oil, salt, and pepper; shave raw and add to salads, wrap in bacon or pancetta for an appetizer, blanche, and toss with olive oil and lemon.
One medium tomato contains nearly 80 mg of vitamin C. This versatile fruit is delicious at any time of day, works well raw or cooked, and is easy to incorporate into nearly any breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
How to eat: Cook down for tomato sauce, add to salads, roast with other veggies and add to a grain bowl, slice, and add to breakfast or lunch wraps.
Many people don’t realize this, but strawberries are actually a great source of vitamin C. Each one-cup serving of strawberries contains nearly 90 mg of vitamin C.
How to eat: Pair strawberries with orange for a vitamin C-dense fruit salad, or slice and add to a yogurt and granola parfait for a nutritious breakfast. Strawberries are a great dessert option too.
One cup of papaya contains nearly 90 mg of vitamin C. If you’ve never tasted this delicious and nutritious fruit, now you have your excuse to give it a try.
How to eat: After scooping out the seeds, grab a spoon and enjoy as is, top with yogurt and granola, or add to a fruit salad.
Nothing beats a flavorful, juicy mango on a warm day. One cup of mango contains just under 50 mg of vitamin C. This fruit is also a great source of vitamin A.
How to eat: Add to smoothies or yogurt for breakfast, or peel, slice and eat as is.
By eating about two standard-sized kiwis, you’ll get about 130 mg of vitamin C.
How to eat: Slice ’em in half and eat with a spoon, add to fruit salad, toss in juices or smoothies.
One cup of vitamin C delivers nearly 80 mg of vitamin C. Did you know pineapple is also a natural anti-inflammatory, thanks to an enzyme called Bromelain?
How to eat: Blend into a smoothie, add to fruit salad, grill.
Remember: vitamin C plays an important role in supporting the immune system. Aim for about 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg per day for men.