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.
Best foods for vitamin C
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:
|Food||Serving size||Milligrams (mg) per serving||Percent of 90 mg daily value (DV)|
|1||Guava, raw||1 cup, raw||377||419%|
|2||Sweet red pepper, raw||1 cup, raw||190||211%|
|3||Tomato juice||1 cup, canned||170||188.9%|
|4||Orange juice||1 cup||124||137.8%|
|5||Sweet green pepper||1 cup, raw||120||133%|
|6||Hot green chili pepper, raw||1 pepper, raw||109||121%|
|7||Oranges||1 large fruit||97.5||108.8%|
|8||Strawberries||1 cup, sliced||97.6||108%|
|9||Papaya||1 small fruit||95.6||106.2%|
|10||Pink grapefruit juice||1 cup||93.9||104.3%|
|11||Broccoli||1 cup, raw||81.2||90.2%|
|12||Pineapple chunks||1 cup, raw||78.9||87.7%|
|13||Potato||1 large vegetable||72.7||80.8%|
|14||Brussels sprouts||1 cup, raw||74.8||79.8%|
|16||Mango||1 cup, raw||60.1||66.7%|
|18||Cauliflower||1 cup, raw||51.6||57.3%|
|20||White grapefruit||½ medium fruit||39||43.3%|
Does cooking affect vitamin C?
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.
Why is vitamin C important?
A person with vitamin C deficiency may experience joint pain.
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
- 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.
A vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, may cause:
Health benefits of vitamin C intake
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:
- A meta-analysis found that vitamin C was linked to a lower risk of certain types of brain tumor.
- Another study determined that high doses of vitamin C impaired the growth of colorectal tumors in mice.
- A different meta-analysis observed that higher vitamin C intake was associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.
Meals and recipes for a vitamin C boost
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.
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:
- a smoothie made with plain Greek yogurt, kiwi, and strawberries
- a turmeric and papaya smoothie
- an omelet with chopped red and green bell peppers
- a make-ahead pineapple and blueberry breakfast parfait
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:
- a leafy green salad of kale and spinach, topped with mandarin oranges
- sweet potato and black bean chili
- a baked potato topped with fresh tomato salsa
- an avocado and mango salad
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:
- cooked chicken breasts served with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- roasted brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic
- cauliflower rice topped with broccoli, garlic, and parmesan cheese
- chili-stuffed peppers
- savory and sweet guava chicken
How much vitamin C should I get?
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.