Vitamin C: Why We Need It, Sources, and How Much Is Too Much
If you’ve read a lot of health advice throughout your life, we’re guessing there was never a shortage of vitamin C mentions along the way.
A lot of vitamin C advice probably goes along the lines of “A little under the weather? You’ll find some vitamin C in orange juice.”, “Down with the flu? Take some vitamin C powder with water.”, or “Are you seriously ill? Vitamin C!”
When vitamin C is frequently advised as the "everything antidote" that can alleviate any condition, it's easy to follow along without wondering what exactly this godsend is. We understand.
We don't mean to suggest that vitamin C is questionable, but we believe in health education and like to do our part. And in this article, our part is to tell you everything you need to know about vitamin C. So read on!
What Exactly Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid or ascorbate, is an essential nutrient that experts agree is among the safest and healthiest nutrients out there. It’s also water-soluble, and the body doesn’t store it, so you need regular adequate nutrition to maintain good levels of vitamin C.
But why is it so widely popular? For starters, vitamin C is an essential player in many bodily processes, most notably boosting the immune system function, helping repair body tissues, supporting the production of some neurotransmitters, and acting as an antioxidant.
In simpler terms, vitamin C is often recommended because it supports the body in treating and preventing many conditions.
Secondly, you can always benefit from more vitamin C as long as you don't go overboard with it, kind of like water. Many medical professionals find that a higher level of vitamin C in the blood indicates good overall health.
If all that sounds too sciencey, don't worry, as we'll get into the benefits of vitamin C in detail soon.
What Is Vitamin C Good For?
Now let’s look at some of the biggest benefits of vitamin C.
Immune System Benefits
Vitamin C boosts the body's immunity against diseases by two main ways: directly supporting the body's immune system as a structure and acting as an antioxidant.
Perhaps the most popular benefit of vitamin C is its direct positive effect on the immune system, innate and adaptive. In addition, vitamin C is tasked with important roles such as killing microbes, protecting the tissues from excessive damage, and supporting many immune cell functions.
Vitamin C boosts plasma levels in the blood as well, which improves the absorption of nutrients, hormones, and proteins to the body parts that need it most. It also helps the body get rid of waste and improves blood circulation throughout the body.
Secondly, the potent antioxidant properties of vitamin C help the body’s immunity as well.
The body usually contains some harmful substances called free radicals that roam around, damaging cells and tissues. If left to its own devices, free radicals could cause serious health ailments like heart diseases or cancer.
That's why antioxidants are essential for good health, and vitamin C is rich in antioxidant properties.
Enhancing Brain Function
Vitamin C plays an essential role in creating enzymes that produce neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
More healthy neurotransmitters in the body make this communication more efficient, and cognitive function increases.
For reference, a 2017 research article published by Nutrients showed that people with more intact cognitive function had higher levels of vitamin C than those with impaired cognitive ability. And although this isn’t hard science yet, and more research is needed, we believe we can conclude from these results.
Vitamin C is essential in collagen production in skin cells, and the body depends on vitamin C for this purpose.
Collagen is a natural filling substance in your skin, essentially a cushioning that makes your skin look firm and young.
During youth, collagen is plentiful in the skin, but as we age, its production declines, which is one of the reasons wrinkles and fine lines start to appear. However, keeping your body stocked up with vitamin C can boost collagen production and slow down anti-aging.
Moreover, the antioxidant properties of vitamin C come to the rescue again. Vitamin C can slow down aging by neutralizing the free radicals in the skin that cause oxidative stress, which dulls the skin and may lead to premature aging.
The Best Vitamin C Sources
The great thing about vitamin C is that it’s naturally present in many foods, especially the healthy ones we regularly eat, so most people don’t have an issue getting adequate vitamin C every day.
For reference, the recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 90 milligrams for adult men and 65 milligrams for adult women. See a table of recommended intakes for each specific demographic group here.
Still, it’s good to know the popular foods richest in vitamin C so you can resort to them if you need to. So let’s get into it.
Orange and other citrus fruits are traditionally well-known as sources of vitamin C, and it’s true. For example, a medium-sized orange contains 70 mg of vitamin C, a grapefruit contains 88 mg, a mandarin 24 mg, and a lime 13 mg.
Lemons are also a top choice for vitamin C intake. An average-size whole lemon, including its peel, contains 80+ mg of vitamin C. Of course, we don’t expect you to eat the peel, so know that lemon juice contains just under 38 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams which is still plenty.
Because citrus fruits are so widespread, especially oranges and lemons, they’re among the most popularly taken sources of vitamin C.
Strawberries aren’t usually grouped with oranges and lemons as vitamin C high foods, but 100 grams of strawberries contains 59 mg of vitamin C - a little less but still comparable to the vitamin C content in citruses.
Kiwis are also a good source of vitamin C, rocking a 71 mg vitamin C content per kiwi. And remember, they’re not citrus fruits no matter what some people say or how much citric acid is in them!
Acerola cherries are among the richest foods in vitamin C out there, with an incredible 1644 mg of vitamin C in just one cup. If you can get your hands on some, we recommend you take small portions every day to reach your daily recommended intake.
Lastly, we can’t ignore guavas because a single guava contains a whopping 126 mg of vitamin C, almost one and a half times the recommended daily intake. In young people, a handful of pieces of guava is enough to fill their daily intake of vitamin C.
Now it’s time for the obligatory vegetable section in your health advice article. Because yes, vegetables contain so much nutrition that they make their way here as well.
We’ll talk specifically about the cruciferous vegetables you read about everywhere, and hopefully, we can convince you to start eating them if you’re not already!
A cup of raw kale contains 80 mg of vitamin C, but when cooked, the vitamin C content drops to 35 mg. We’re not suggesting you eat raw kale, as cooked kale has more antioxidant benefits for you that aren’t worth sacrificing for a little more vitamin C.
Brussels sprouts and broccoli contain a bit more vitamin C than kale, with 98 mg in one cup of cooked Brussels sprouts, while a cup of cooked broccoli contains 102 mg.
If you can get your hands on mustard spinach, then it’s your best cruciferous vegetable for vitamin C, containing a full 117 mg of vitamin C in a cup when cooked - more than enough to satisfy most people’s daily intakes.
Vitamin C can also be found in good quantities in some herbs. Although you probably won’t fill up your daily intake with just herbs, they’re useful to add to your food for that extra bit of vitamin C.
For example, one ounce of parsley contains 35 mg of vitamin C, about 38% of the recommended daily intake.
Thyme is also packed with vitamin C - the most packed out of all culinary herbs. One ounce of thyme contains 45 mg of vitamin C, about half the recommended daily intake. So even just a tablespoon or two of thyme can help your immune system a lot.
You can always use a vitamin C supplement if you’re unable to reach your recommended daily intake of vitamin C for whatever reason.
The best supplements are organic and aim to deliver the purest possible form of a nutrient. And that’s what we do with our new organic acerola cherry vitamin C powder here at Ethical Nutrition Co.
Remember when we talked about acerola cherries above and how one cup is packed with over 1600 mg of vitamin C? We’ve taken this powerful food and turned it into an organic powder with zero additives so that you can take pure supplementation with no side effects.
Just one daily dose provides vitamin C 250mg - well over the recommended daily intake and way under the dangerous limits, so you’re always in the sweet spot.
Also, natural vitamin C is better absorbed by the body than synthetic chemicals often found in supplements, which is another reason we made our powder as it is.
How Much Vitamin C Is Too Much?
Think of vitamin C like water - you need a lot of both to survive and live healthily. More is generally even better (which is why we provide more than the recommended daily dose), but take massive doses and they’ll start to backfire.
The recommended maximum intake of vitamin C is a megadose of 2,000 mg, but although the risks are improbable, we’d recommend you stay under 1,000 mg to be safe.
Even if you go over the megadose, you might still be fine. However, you risk getting digestive distress such as diarrhea, nausea, acid reflux and vomiting, and heartburn.
Quick Guide to Vitamin C Supplementation
If you’re getting into vitamin C supplementation instead of natural sources, check out our quick guide on the dos and don’ts.
First of all, resort to supplementation when your daily diet doesn’t provide you with vitamin C. For many people, their food contains more than enough vitamin C, and supplementation would be unnecessary.
Although the recommended daily intake for most adults usually doesn’t exceed 100 mg, with the only exceptions for breastfeeding women and smokers, we recommend you take more than your daily intake if it’s possible and convenient. Recall our water analogy above.
Even though the recommended maximum daily intake is 2,000 mg, we advise you never to go over 1,000 mg to stay on the safe side.
Also, don’t take supplements that aren’t pure or organic, so no additives, no sugar, and no preservatives. This means you’ll have to treat your supplements as if they were food, so don’t leave them lying around to spoil.
Thanks for reading our guide on vitamin C. To recap, vitamin C deserves its popularity as it plays a crucial role in many bodily processes. For example, it boosts your immunity, helps slow down aging, enhances your brain function, and has more benefits that have all been supported by science and research.
For most adults, the daily recommended intake is in the 65-90 mg range, which is naturally achievable through a healthy diet in most people’s cases. However, if your diet isn’t enough, then you can try out our organic acerola cherry vitamin C powder, which provides you with a perfect 250mg dose of vitamin C a day.