Fruits and vegetables are the best food sources of vitamin C. Eating a variety of these healthy 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 body does not store vitamin C, so people need to source this nutrient from their diet every day. It dissolves in water, and any excess leaves the body in urine.

This article examines 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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The following foods contain more than 20% of the recommended daily value (DV) of vitamin C.

FoodServing sizeMg per servingPercent of 90 mg DV
Guava, raw1 cup, raw377419%
Sweet red pepper, raw1 cup, raw190211%
Tomato juice1 cup, canned170188.9%
Orange juice1 cup124137.8%
Sweet green pepper1 cup, raw120133%
Hot green chili pepper, raw1 pepper, raw109121%
Oranges1 large fruit97.5108.8%
Strawberries1 cup, sliced97.6108%
Papaya1 small fruit95.6106.2%
Pink grapefruit juice1 cup93.9104.3%
Broccoli1 cup, raw81.290.2%
Pineapple chunks1 cup, raw78.987.7%
Potato1 large vegetable72.780.8%
Brussels sprouts1 cup, raw74.879.8%
Kiwifruit1 fruit6471.1%
Mango1 cup, raw60.166.7%
Cantaloupe1 cup57.363.7%
Cauliflower1 cup, raw51.657.3%
Lemon1 fruit44.549.4%
White grapefruit½ medium fruit3943.3%

Cooking may reduce the amount of vitamin C in fruits and vegetables. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) notes that steaming or microwaving these foods may retain the most of the vitamin.

People should eat various raw fruits and vegetables every day to obtain the most vitamin C.

For more in-depth resources about vitamins, minerals, and supplements, visit our dedicated hub.

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.

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.

A low intake of vitamin C will reduce the body’s ability to make collagen. This can negatively affect different body tissues.

A vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy. This can lower a person’s immune function and increase their risk of infection. Scurvy is relatively rare in the United States but is more prevalent in malnourished populations. Levels of scurvy are associated with socioeconomic disparity.

A vitamin C deficiency may cause:

  • joint pain
  • bleeding gums
  • problems with wound healing
  • tooth loss

Vitamin C and mental health

Vitamin C deficiency may affect a person’s mental health as well as their physical health.

A 2020 review found links between low vitamin C levels and depression and cognitive impairment.

Scurvy can also cause fatigue, which can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. However, researchers found that people may experience mental health complications in a smaller vitamins c deficit than that necessary for scurvy diagnosis.

Different people require different intakes of vitamin C.

According to the ODS, the recommended dietary 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

Children typically require less than this. People who smoke or have conditions that affect vitamin absorption in the intestines are at risk of having a lower intake and may require a higher amount.

Find out more about the exact daily levels of vitamin C a person needs.

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. Further studies are necessary to fully explore these statements.

However, eating more fruits and vegetables can help boost general heart health 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.

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 is necessary for good health. As it is abundant in many plant foods, eating a healthy balanced 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 daily.