When thinking of ways to boost health, many people reach for vitamins and nutrients to help their bodies perform. But if you’re looking for something that has loads of pros to level up anything from your skin to your immune system, one vitamin, in particular, stands out. Vitamin C health benefits are vast, and its immunity-boosting reputation only scratches the surface.
We spoke with several nutritionists, Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN., culinary nutrition expert in Westchester, Jessica Zinn, MS, RDN, CDNand Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDNplant-forward chef, culinary nutritionist, and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook, to give you all the expert insight on the benefits of vitamin C, and where you can find it the most naturally occurring in your meal plan.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is most well known for its role in “preventing colds, controlling infections, and wound healing,” says Levinson. “It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it isn’t stored well in the body, therefore it’s a nutrient we need to consume (or supplement) enough of on a daily basis.”
Although rare in the US, Zinn points out that “vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy which causes anemia, bleeding gums, poor wound healing and bruising”.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is 90 milligrams for adult men and 75 milligrams for adult women. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider to see if you need more or less.
Vitamin C health benefits
Vitamin C is well known for its immunity benefits. It plays a key role in immune functioning and wound healing [and] it can help your body absorb more nonheme iron—the type of iron you find in plant foods, says Newgent.
Vitamin C is essential to your body’s production of collagen. Levinson explains that “vitamin C is needed to make collagen, a fibrous protein in connective tissue that helps build and maintain skin, joints, and bones.”
Collagen also keeps skin firm and reduces the appearance of wrinkles, and protects skin from sun damage and age spots. So a vitamin C serum can also have benefits in your skincare routine! As well as collagen, your body also needs vitamin C to create blood vessels and muscles, says Zinn. Plus, vitamin c face serums are known to reduce dark spots and brighten skin!
Vitamin C works as an antioxidant to protect your body against many diseases and from the harm of free radicals. “Free radicals are caused by pollution, smoke and toxic chemicals which can build up in the body and cause health issues such as cancer, heart disease and inflammatory diseases like arthritis,” explains Zinn.
And thanks to its antioxidant activity, “vitamin C may play a beneficial role in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers,” adds Newgent.
Are there any downsides to consuming too much vitamin C?
It turns out that too much of a good thing could have some unpleasant consequences, so be careful and monitor your vitamin C intake. Taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps, according to the NIH.
What are some foods that are rich in vitamin C?
While citrus fruits are most well known for their vitamin C content, vitamin C can be found in many different foods, and many foods have more vitamin C than oranges. Kiwi, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli are all excellent sources as well.
“Supplements of vitamin C are also widely available but consuming vitamin C through food may have greater antioxidant effects and promote a well-rounded and nutritious diet,” suggests Zinn.
Levinson adds that “an interesting tidbit about vitamin C is that combining foods that are high in vitamin C with food that contain non-heme iron (the iron found in plant-based foods) helps the absorption of iron. For example, cooking spinach in tomato sauce or adding lemon juice to a bean salad.
Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider.
Magdalene, Prevention‘s assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD, and from her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience—and she helps strategize for success across Prevention‘s social media platforms.