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Fruits and vegetables are the best food sources of vitamin C. Eating a variety of these healthful foods will help people meet their daily requirements.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, plays many important roles in the body. In particular, it is key to the immune system, helping prevent infections and fight disease.

The human body does not store vitamin C, so people need to get this nutrient from their diet every day. It dissolves in water, and any excess leaves the body in urine.

This article looks at the foods richest in vitamin C and how to include them in the diet. It also discusses the vitamin's function and health benefits.

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Vitamin C is important for a person's immune system.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C for adults is:

  • 90 milligrams (mg) for males
  • 75 mg for females
  • 85 mg when pregnant
  • 120 mg when breastfeeding
  • an additional 35 mg for people who smoke

Some experts believe that people should consume much more than the recommended daily allowance for good health. One scientific editorial suggests that 200 mg per day is an optimal amount for most adults.

One serving of any of the foods below contains more than 20 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. This makes these foods "excellent" sources of the vitamin, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The following 20 foods are among the richest sources of vitamin C:

FoodServing sizeMilligrams (mg) per servingPercent of 90 mg daily value (DV)
1Guava, raw1 cup, raw377419%
2Sweet red pepper, raw1 cup, raw190211%
3Tomato juice1 cup, canned170188.9%
4Orange juice1 cup124137.8%
5Sweet green pepper1 cup, raw120133%
6Hot green chili pepper, raw1 pepper, raw109121%
7Oranges1 large fruit97.5108.8%
8Strawberries1 cup, sliced97.6108%
9Papaya1 small fruit95.6106.2%
10Pink grapefruit juice1 cup93.9104.3%
11Broccoli1 cup, raw81.290.2%
12Pineapple chunks1 cup, raw78.987.7%
13Potato1 large vegetable72.780.8%
14Brussels sprouts1 cup, raw74.879.8%
15Kiwifruit1 fruit6471.1%
16Mango1 cup, raw60.166.7%
17Cantaloupe1 cup57.363.7%
18Cauliflower1 cup, raw51.657.3%
19Lemon1 fruit44.549.4%
20White grapefruit½ medium fruit3943.3%

Cooking may reduce the amount of the vitamin in fruits and vegetables. To lose the least vitamin C, the ODS recommend steaming or microwaving these foods.

To get the most vitamin C, eat a variety of raw fruits and vegetables every day.

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A person with vitamin C deficiency may experience joint pain.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It protects the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can cause changes in cells and DNA that can lead to illnesses, including cancer.

This vitamin also plays a key role in almost all of the body's tissues. Without vitamin C, the body cannot make collagen, a protein that is necessary for building and maintaining:

  • healthy bones
  • joints
  • skin
  • digestive tract tissues

Vitamin C is an important part of the immune system, which defends against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Studies show that low levels of vitamin C lead to problems with the immune system and other illnesses.

Vitamin C deficiency can result in a condition called scurvy. This deficiency is relatively rare in the United States.

A vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, may cause:

The following sections discuss some of the most important benefits of vitamin C.

Boosting heart health

Some evidence suggests that vitamin C may help lower the risk of heart disease or its complications.

One study indicates that people who consume more vitamin C have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Other researchers are not convinced that vitamin C alone improves heart health. However, it is clear that eating more fruits and vegetables can help boost the health of the heart by providing a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Strengthening the immune system

Vitamin C has an immune-boosting effect that can help the body fight off illnesses, such as the common cold.

One study found that vitamin C helped prevent pneumonia and supported tetanus treatment. Also, findings of an animal study suggest that vitamin C plays a role in reducing lung inflammation that results from the flu.

Lowering the risk of some cancers

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, so it can prevent damage caused by free radicals. This may help prevent diseases such as cancer.

Investigations into whether vitamin C effectively prevents cancer have yielded mixed findings. However, the results of a few studies have been positive:

Vitamin C-rich foods can be a part of nearly any meal. The following breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas can help a person meet their daily requirement.

Breakfast

Many people have a glass of orange juice with breakfast, but this is high in sugar. In fact, some brands of orange juice contain as much sugar as a soda.

Instead, load up on vitamin C in the morning with some of these breakfast options:

Lunch

A healthful lunch can help prevent afternoon fatigue and keep energy levels up until dinner. Some ideas for a vitamin C-infused midday meal include:

Dinner

Dinner can be a rich source of vitamin C when a person tops vegetables or meats with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

When vitamin C accompanies iron-rich plant foods, the body absorbs the iron more efficiently.

Some dinner ideas include:

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A person who smokes may need more vitamin C.

Some people may need higher amounts of vitamin C than others. People who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, for example, may require more vitamin C to reduce the damage of the free radicals that the smoke releases.

Other groups who may benefit from a higher vitamin C intake include:

  • people who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables or who have a very restricted diet
  • people who are unable to fully absorb vitamins and nutrients
  • people with certain health conditions, such as kidney disease or cancer

If someone cannot get enough vitamin C in their diet, they can take supplements. Many brands are available in drug stores and online.

Vitamin C is necessary for good health. Because it is abundant in many plant foods, eating a healthful diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables usually provides a person with all the vitamin C that they need.

People who wish to boost their vitamin C intake can do so by eating rich sources of the vitamin each day.