Top 20 Vitamin C Foods that Can Boost Immunity and Fight Disease
February 1, 2022
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There are few vitamins that boast as many health benefits as vitamin C. Doubling as both an essential nutrient and powerful antioxidant, eating vitamin C foods can have a huge impact on your health from the inside out — quite literally.
In fact, vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) works to improve everything from skin health to immune function and just about everything in between. By incorporating just a few servings of vitamin C foods (such as bell peppers and strawberries) into your diet, it’s simple to take advantage of all the health benefits that this water-soluble vitamin has to offer.
So how much vitamin C do you need per day, and how can you maximize your intake to reap the rewards? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant and plays a role in maintaining the body’s connective tissue. Vitamin C can also help protect your heart, repair and restore tissues, and boost the absorption of other nutrients in the body.
Vitamin C foods have long been recognized for their powerful health-promoting properties. In fact, these super nutritious fruits and vegetables are often considered staples in many forms of holistic medicine, including Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Found primarily in fruits and vegetables, vitamin C is abundant throughout the diet, though there are some who lack this key vitamin.
A vitamin C deficiency can wreak havoc, causing symptoms like easy bruising, bleeding gums, fatigue, weakened immunity and, in severe cases, scurvy. In fact, around the 18th century, scurvy became a serious problem for the British navy.
This condition stems from a severe deficiency in vitamin C and can cause issues like bleeding gums, bruising and even death. At one point, scurvy was even considered the leading cause of death among British sailors.
Because your body doesn’t store vitamin C or make it on its own, it’s absolutely vital to include plenty of vitamin C fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. The benefits of vitamin C may include better immune function, plus a reduced risk of conditions like gout and cardiovascular disease.
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Top 20 Vitamin C Foods
The best way to meet your vitamin C needs is by incorporating a few vitamin C foods into your diet.
What foods have vitamin C? Here are the top vitamin C superfoods to start stocking up on, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, many of which are low in calories but full of nutrients beyond just vitamin C:
Black Currant — 1 cup: 203 milligrams (338 percent DV)
Red Pepper — 1 cup: 190 milligrams (317 percent DV)
Kiwifruit — 1 cup: 164 milligrams (273 percent DV)
Guava — 1 fruit: 126 milligrams (209 percent DV)
Green Bell Pepper — 1 cup: 120 milligrams (200 percent DV)
Orange — 1 large: 98 milligrams (163 percent DV)
Strawberries — 1 cup: 89 milligrams (149 percent DV)
Papaya — 1 cup: 87 milligrams (144 percent DV)
Broccoli — 1 cup, raw: 81 milligrams (135 percent DV)
Kale — 1 cup, raw: 80 milligrams (134 percent DV)
Parsley — 1 cup: 80 milligrams (133 percent DV)
Pineapple — 1 cup: 79 milligrams (131 percent DV)
Brussels Sprouts — 1/2 cup, cooked: 48 milligrams (81 percent DV)
Cauliflower — 1 cup, raw: 46 milligrams (77 percent DV)
Mango — 1 cup: 46 milligrams (76 percent DV)
Lemon — 1 fruit: 45 milligrams (74 percent DV)
Grapefruit — 1/2 fruit: 38 milligrams (64 percent DV)
Honeydew — 1 cup: 32 milligrams (53 percent DV)
Peas — 1 cup, cooked: 23 milligrams (38 percent DV)
Tomatoes — 1 cup, raw: 23 milligrams (38 percent DV)
Related: Tangerine Fruit: Benefits, Nutrition & How It Compares to an Orange
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Benefits of Foods High in Vitamin C
1. Promote Healthy Skin and Collagen Formation
Including plenty of vitamin C foods in your diet can help keep your skin glowing and healthy. In fact, a major study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the diets of over 4,000 women and found that consuming more high vitamin C foods was associated with a lower risk of wrinkles and dryness.
There is also some evidence suggesting that using a topical vitamin C serum could decrease the amount of redness following UVB exposure and may decrease sunburn cell formation by up to 60 percent.
Research indicates that part of the reason vitamin C foods can be so beneficial is because the nutrient is used to form collagen, an important protein used to form the skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Collagen is especially important in aiding both wound healing and scar tissue formation.
One study from the University of Kiel in Germany even found that collagen could help improve skin elasticity and moisture, making it absolutely essential to fit plenty of vitamin C foods into your diet.
2. Improve Iron Absorption
Iron is a mineral that is vital to many aspects of health. Most importantly, it is a major component of the hemoglobin found in your red blood cells and can help supply the cells throughout your body with oxygen.
A deficiency in this key mineral can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a condition characterized by anemia symptoms like weakness, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Consuming vitamin C foods alongside iron can boost absorption of the important mineral to help prevent a deficiency. In fact, one study actually concluded that taking 100 milligrams of vitamin C with a meal increased iron absorption by a whopping 67 percent.
3. Reduce Risk of Gout
Gout is a painful form of arthritis that can cause severe redness and tenderness in the joints, especially in the big toe. Although anti-inflammatory medications are often used to relieve symptoms during flare-ups, it’s typically recommended to make long-term diet and lifestyle changes to prevent recurrences of this unpleasant condition.
Adding more foods that contain vitamin C into your diet is an easy and effective way to reduce your risk of gout.
According to one massive study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a high intake of vitamin C was associated with a significantly lower risk of gout. Not only that, but researchers found that taking at least 1,500 milligrams of supplemental vitamin C each day cut the risk of gout nearly in half.
4. Fight Free Radical Damage
Vitamin C is one of the primary antioxidants that can protect against damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, as well as toxic chemicals and pollutants like cigarette smoke.
Research indicates that free radicals can build up inside the body and contribute to the development of conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis. These disease-causing molecules are generated over time due to factors like a poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, and long-term exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins.
5. Boost Immune Function
For many people, reaching for the high vitamin C foods and supplements is almost second nature when they start feeling under the weather. Rich in antioxidants, the immune-boosting benefits of this powerful vitamin have been well-documented in recent years.
In fact, one of the hallmark signs of a deficiency is a weakened immune system.
One study out of Switzerland actually found that getting enough vitamin C can help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory infections, such as the common cold, bronchitis or sinusitis. Plus, it also could improve the outcomes and reduce the incidence of other conditions, like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea infections.
6. Enhance Cancer Treatment
Vitamin C is jam-packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants and has been shown to have powerful anticancer properties in both in vitro studies and animal models. Vitamin C foods like lemons and oranges have also been found to help block the growth and spread of cancer cells and may also be associated with a lower risk of cancer development.
Not only that, but vitamin C may also have some benefits when used alongside traditional cancer treatments. A large review of 76 studies revealed that administering vitamin C intravenously could improve time to relapse, reduce tumor size, enhance quality of life and decrease symptoms associated with chemotherapy, such as nausea, depression and fatigue.
7. Support Heart Health
Ranking as the leading cause of death, it’s estimated that cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly 32 percent of deaths around the world. Switching up your diet and lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to ward off heart-related issues, and some research even shows that including just a few servings per day of vitamin C foods could help reduce several risk factors to support a healthy heart.
One large study out of Finland concluded that people who took at least 700 milligrams of vitamin C daily had a 25 percent lower risk of developing heart conditions than people who did not take supplemental vitamin C.
Similarly, another study showed that taking just 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily significantly reduced both triglycerides and levels of bad LDL cholesterol, two major contributors to heart disease.
Vitamin C consumption also can protect blood vessel lining and help prevent permeability that can lead to serious heart problems and other inflammatory diseases.
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