Sources of vitamin C

How often have you heard that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is good for immune defence? Its role in supporting a healthy immune system may be well known, but do you know why?

How vitamin C helps support a healthy immune system

Vitamin C plays a vital role in many important functions in your body – including your immune system.

The immune system is a complicated network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to help defend your body – and vitamin C gets involved in lots of different ways:

  • Vitamin C is a very effective antioxidant that helps protect cells – including those in the immune system – from damage caused by unstable chemicals called ‘free radicals’. Free radicals are made during the everyday normal processes going on in the body, but can also be formed and start to build-up in the body when, for example, we’re stressed, drink alcohol or are exposed to pollution (such as cigarette smoke) or sunlight.
  • Vitamin C helps boost the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that produce antibodies to help protect the body against infections.
  • Vitamin C also helps specialised cells (phagocytes) that engulf and destroy microorganisms to work more effectively.
  • Vitamin C helps strengthen one of the body’s first lines of defence against infection – the skin – by helping to produce and stabilise collagen (the main skin protein) and speed up wound healing.

Why do we need daily vitamin C?

Vitamin C is water-soluble – which is great for dissolving in body fluids and being delivered to where it’s needed – but our bodies can’t make it or store it for very long, so we have to get our daily supply of vitamin C from the foods we eat each day or from a vitamin source like Berocca.

How much vitamin C do you need?

While we all need vitamin C, we don’t all need the same amount – your body requires different amounts of vitamin C depending on your age and stage of life1.

In Australia, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C for the average healthy adult (someone over 18 years old) is 45 mg of vitamin C per day1 – which can easily be met by eating one orange (100 g of peeled raw orange contains about 52 mg of vitamin C)2.

Children need less vitamin C than adults and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding you’ll need more2 .

Vitamin C

RDI1

Kids (1–3 years old)35 mg
Kids (4–8 years old)35 mg
Adolescents (9–13 years old)40 mg
Teens (14–18 years old)40 mg
Women (19 years and older)45 mg
Men (19 years and older)45 mg
Pregnant women (19 years and older)60 mg
Breastfeeding women (19 years and older)85 mg
RDI – recommended daily intake 

Source: NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Version 1.2. 2006. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au

What are the best sources of vitamin C?

Fruits and vegetables provide us with some of the best sources of vitamin C – here are just a few examples of common fruit and vegetables that contain lots of vitamin C.

Vitamin C in 100 g serving2

Fruits

Mango (peeled, raw) 24 mg
Raspberry (raw) 29 mg
Rockmelon/cantaloupe (peeled, raw) 34 mg
Strawberries (raw) 45 mg
Orange (peeled, raw) 52 mg
Pawpaw/papaya (peeled, raw) 60 mg
Green kiwifruit (raw) 85 mg
Yellow Kiwifruit (raw) 110 mg
Guava (raw) 243 mg

Vegetables

 
Tomato (raw) 14 mg
Asparagus (raw) 15 mg
Sliver beet/Swiss chard (fresh, raw) 21 mg
Baby spinach (fresh, raw) 25 mg
Cherry tomato (raw) 26 mg
Broccoli (fresh, microwaved) 57 mg
Brussels sprouts (fresh, boiled) 63 mg
Red cabbage (raw) 69 mg
Broccoli (fresh, raw) 106 mg
Green bell pepper (fresh, raw) 220 mg
Red bell pepper (fresh, raw) 330 mg

Source: Food Standards Australia New Zealand. https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/Pages/foodsbynutrientsearch.aspx?nutrientID=VITC

Tips for getting your daily vitamin C

The good news is you should be able to get all the vitamin C you need from a healthy, well-balanced diet containing lots of fruit and vegetables.

  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible
  • Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, can leach out of food when it’s boiled or steamed or destroyed during cooking – luckily, many of the best food sources of vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables, can be eaten raw!
  • Remember, some staple foods such as grains and processed foods may only contain small amounts of vitamin C
  • Vitamin C is water-soluble and doesn’t stick around in the body for very long, so to maintain healthy levels, make sure you have a regular supply from your diet

While most people should be able to get enough vitamin C from a well-balanced diet, this is not always the case. Some people may not always reach their optimal daily level of vitamin C, and this is when you may benefit from the use of vitamin C supplements from products such as Berocca.

If you are concerned about how much vitamin C you need or worried about what to eat, talk to your doctor or dietitian as they should be able to advise on what is best for you.

References

1. NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Executive Summary. 2006. Version 1.2 updated September 2017. Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/nutrient-reference-values-australia-and-new-zealand-including-recommended-dietary-intakes#block-views-block-file-attachments-content-block-1 (accessed September 2022).

2. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Foods that contain: vitamin C. Available at: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/Pages/foodsbynutrientsearch.aspx?nutrientID=VITC (accessed September 2022).

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