Living Well in Yalobusha County

By: Pamela Redwine

Nutrition and Food Safety Area Agent

Most of us recognize the importance of vitamin C and the benefits of a glass of orange juice in the morning.  But, vitamin C is found in more than just orange juice and found in more than just citrus fruits.  There are many other foods that we can choose in order to add vitamin C to our diets.

We have only known about vitamin C for less than a century, but the importance of vitamin C was recognized long ago, even before it had a name.  There was a severe nutritional deficiency affecting many sailors, who would set off on long sea voyages, many never to return.  This deficiency, known as scurvy, was a very painful disease, leading to the loss of hair and teeth, depression, blindness and eventually death.  

It was found that once fresh fruits and vegetables were no longer available on the ship, due to spoilage, individuals would begin to show symptoms of scurvy.  Once fruits and vegetables were reintroduced the symptoms improved.  Lime juice, which could be stored much longer, was provided and the cases of scurvy on ships reduced drastically.  The term “limey” actually became a nickname for British sailors; because of the limes and lime juice they carried to prevent scurvy. We now realize that the connection was not between citrus fruits and scurvy, but the body’s need for vitamin C.

Of course today, we don’t see many cases of scurvy because our diets have improved dramatically in the last several hundred years and we recognize the importance vitamins and minerals play in the prevention of disease and deficiency.  Vitamin C helps our bodies produce collagen, which is a connective tissue that is necessary in holding our muscles, bones, and other tissues together.  It helps keep blood vessel walls firm and protects us from bruising too easily.  

Vitamin C keeps our gums healthy and helps heal any cuts and wounds we may get.  Vitamin C also helps our body absorb iron and folic acid from plant sources of food. It helps protect us from infection by helping our bodies boost immunity through the formation of important antibodies.  Finally it is an antioxidant which helps to prevent damage to our body’s cells.

As mentioned earlier, we really don’t have to worry about the serious effects of scurvy, but if we consistently consume too little, we may find that there can still be a negative effect on things we can see, like slowed wound healing.  However, the greater risk may be the things we can’t see like reduced absorption of other important vitamins or minerals. It is also important to remember that vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, which means that it does not stay in the body for a long period of time before it is excreted.  Another reason it is important to consume vitamin C containing foods every day.  

There are several other foods, besides oranges and citrus fruits, which provide vitamin C.  A 1/2 cup of red bell pepper provides more vitamin C than a medium orange.  Broccoli provides as much vitamin C as an orange.  Vitamin C is also found in strawberries, cantaloupe, tomato juice, a baked potato with skin, collard greens, and raw spinach.  Incorporating these foods into your daily meals will help you not only meet your need for vitamin C, but also provide you with other nutrients that are unique to those foods.  

How much vitamin C do you need? Well it depends on your age.  For females fourteen to eighteen years of age the RDA is 65 milligrams per day and 75 milligrams per day for males of the same age.  Adult males need 90 milligrams a day and adult females need 75 milligrams per day.  Needs are increased to 120 milligrams per day during pregnancy and breast feeding.  For those that may smoke the RDA for vitamin C is increased by 35 milligrams per day to help counteract the damage done by nicotine.

Supplements for vitamin C are available, but are often less effective, and can be more expensive when compared to the whole food. So, keep drinking that glass of 100% orange juice in the morning, but consider choosing other foods as well in an attempt to add variety to your daily meals.

Per serving: 190 calories; 22g protein, 23g carbohydrate; 3 g fat; 40g cholesterol, 5g dietary fiber; 170 mg sodium.

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