Nutritious Vitamin C foods are shown.
Your nutrient needs can be sufficiently met by consuming three to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

As marvelous as vitamin C is, the human body doesn’t make it or store it. We acquire it through food sources.

It’s one of the many reasons a healthy diet is so important.

Here’s some of what vitamin C can do for you:

  • Support the immune system and help fight infection and disease.
  • Support collagen production for healthy skin, bones, joints and wound healing.
  • Support the nervous system’s chemical messenger production.
  • Help process protein.
  • Act as an antioxidant to fight free radicals, inflammation and stressors that may cause certain cancers and diseases.
  • Help the body absorb iron, derived from plants such as spinach.

Keep in mind that a healthy diet doesn’t focus on any one specific nutrient—your nutrient needs are met through a daily diet rich with fruits and vegetables.

Am I vitamin C deficient?

If you don’t eat many fruits and vegetables, chances are you are not getting enough vitamin C. Over the short-term—a few days—this can be remedied by eating more food sources that contain vitamin C.

But a deficiency that lasts a month or more can lead to health problems, particularly if the body is undergoing stress or illness.

A long-term vitamin C deficiency can even lead to scurvy. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Dental problems, such as swollen, bleeding gums and tooth loss
  • Wounds that are open or slow to heal
  • Anemia (low iron in your blood)
  • Fatigue

People at risk of not getting enough vitamin C:

  • Smokers and passive smokers (second-hand smoke)
  • Infants fed evaporated or boiled milk
  • Individuals with limited access to foods and food varieties that contain vitamin C
  • Individuals with limited intake of vitamin C sources
  • Individuals with poor digestive absorption
  • Individuals with certain diseases

A daily dose?

If you eat fruits and vegetables each day, you’re likely getting enough vitamin C. But a vitamin C supplement can still fit into your daily regimen.

Reach out to your health care provider and see if a supplement is right for you. Age can affect the recommended amount, as can medical conditions or certain medications.

Recommended dosage amounts will change depending on age and gender. Dosages are measured in milligrams, with men age 19 and older requiring about 90 milligrams a day and women age 19 and older needing about 75 milligrams a day.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need slightly more.

Consult a health care provider to determine a proper dosage. A pediatrician can help you calculate the proper amount for children.

Go fresh

We get it—nutrition labels can be overwhelming. Instead of pulling your hair out trying to make sense of labels, follow food tips from nutrition experts.

Eat three to five fruit and vegetable servings each day.

And aim for fresh whenever possible. This can help you get the recommended amount of vitamin C and other vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

Fruits and vegetables also contribute to hydration because they naturally contain large amounts of water. They’re also recommended over juices because they contain fiber and help you feel full longer, and they help steady blood sugar and cholesterol.

Avoid the common cold?

This is one of the frequent misconceptions people have about vitamin C. It supports strong immunity, but it’s not a magic bullet to ward off the common cold.

Most research has found that once cold and symptoms have developed, vitamin C will not shorten the duration or lessen the symptoms. Other research, however, has suggested that vitamin C supplementation might modestly shorten the duration of a cold.

While researchers continue to haggle over that topic, there are other things you can do to improve your health at cold season.

Follow proper hygiene as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—wash your hands frequently, don’t go around other people who are sick and don’t touch your face.

Set for success

Fast foods and easy, on-the-go meals are convenient, but they aren’t often the healthiest choice.

Fresh foods sometimes take a little more effort to acquire or prepare, but they’re worth it—they contribute to your intake of vitamin C and a multitude of other nutrients.

Try these tips to set yourself up for long-term success:

  • Keep healthy foods within quick reach. Place a bowl of washed fresh fruit out on the kitchen counter or on the table. Put processed foods out of sight.
  • After groceries are brought inside, rinse, prep and store some in the refrigerator for quick snacks or use in recipes:
    • Strips of carrots or celery
    • Strips of bell pepper
    • Sliced apples
    • Peeled oranges or clementine
    • Cut broccoli or cauliflower florets
  • Add fruits or vegetables to items you already enjoy:
    • Add berries to Greek yogurt. Sprinkle in some cinnamon.
    • Combine mixed greens with a protein like cooked chicken, tuna or salmon.
    • Combine steamed broccoli florets with cooked wild rice and mushrooms.
    • With smoothies, blend in a handful of fresh spinach or kale.

Cook it right

Don’t overlook the abundance of healthy meal ideas online.

Vitamin C is at its peak potency in fresh fruits and vegetables. To retain the vitamin when cooking, try steaming or microwaving instead of using the oven, sautéing or boiling.

If you can’t purchase fresh vegetables, look for low sodium, reduced sodium or no added salt options in the frozen or canned variety. For fruits, look for no added sugar frozen fruit, or canned fruits packed in 100% juice.

Keep it kid-friendly

Adding fruits and vegetable to every meal can be easier said than done, especially if you have picky eaters.

New colors, textures, tastes, smells and temperatures can be a bit much for young tastebuds to process all at once.

But you can find clever ways to get vitamin C into little ones. Explore these child-specific articles from Spectrum Health pediatric dietitian Sarah Flessner, who provides ideas to make snacks and meals a win-win.

Remember that children may need to try a new food multiple times before realizing they like it—sometimes up to 10 times.