Vitamin C Health Benefits & Food Sources: A Complete Guide

What is Vitamin C

Quick Health Scoop

  • What are the benefits of taking Vitamin C? This essential nutrient delivers a variety of health benefits such as supporting your immune system, maintaining skin health, and aiding in collagen production†
  • The body does not store Vitamin C, so you need to replenish it every day
  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables is your best source for obtaining your daily dose of Vitamin C
  • Certain people—such as smokers and women who are pregnant or nursing—need an increased amount of Vitamin C

While you may know Vitamin C as “the immune support vitamin,” this key nutrient provides other health benefits as well—including potent antioxidant properties. Among other Vitamin C benefits, this good-for-you nutrient also increases iron absorption from food and is needed for collagen synthesis to support overall skin health.† 

But what is Vitamin C and how does it differ from ascorbic acid? As a water-soluble vitamin, Vitamin C dissolves in water and then gets delivered to the body’s tissues. However, the body doesn’t store Vitamin C very well, and any excess leaves the body through the urine.1 Because of this, Vitamin C must be consumed every day through your diet or supplements to replenish the body’s needed supply. Also, Vitamin C is what’s called an “essential nutrient.” This means your body can’t produce Vitamin C and must obtain it through food and, if needed, through supplements. So, what is ascorbic acid? Actually, the same thing! The scientific name for Vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid, and people often refer to both interchangeably.

By now, you may want to dig a little deeper and have more questions, like what does Vitamin C do for the body and what is the best source of Vitamin C? If so, read on!

What Are The Benefits Of Vitamin C?

As mentioned above, Vitamin C is well known for supporting your immune system.† 

But what about other Vitamin C benefits? This vital nutrient supports normal growth and development throughout the body.1 In addition, Vitamin C delivers antioxidant properties that help neutralize damaging free radicals.3 The body also needs Vitamin C to make collagen, a fibrous protein in connective tissue that connects various systems in the body such as nervous, immune, bone, cartilage, blood, and others.4, † 

When Should You Take Vitamin C?

If you’re consuming Vitamin C through food (which you should), you can eat nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables any time of day. But if you’re taking a supplement, when should you take Vitamin C—morning or night? In general, it’s typically best to take vitamin supplements in the morning, as it allows the body to absorb nutrients throughout the day. Plus, digestion slows down during sleep, so taking a supplement late at night might not be the most efficient way for nutrient absorption.6 

In addition, it’s generally better to take water-soluble vitamins with food or a meal, so before you start your day, with breakfast, may be a good time to take your Vitamin C supplement. However, the most important factor is to take your supplement regularly, so if it works better for you to remember to take it at lunch, that’s fine, too.

Learn More: When Should You Take Vitamins?

What Has Vitamin C?

When it comes to incorporating key nutrients into your healthy lifestyle, what type of Vitamin C is best? As always, the best source of important vitamins and minerals comes from eating a variety of nutritious foods. 

Wondering what food is highest in Vitamin C? Your best bet for Vitamin C-packed foods include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Here’s a helpful chart showing the foods that have Vitamin C and how much Vitamin C is in each food to help you make healthy eating choices. 

Vitamin C Source

Serving Size

How Much Vitamin C (mg)

Orange juice (frozen, concentrate)

1 cup

379.4

Guava

1 cup

376.7

Sweet red peppers (cooked)

1 cup

230.8

Kiwifruit

1 cup

166.9

Lemons

1 cup

112.4

Pineapple juice

1 cup

109.5

Grapefruit juice

1 cup

101

Navel orange

1 cup

97.5

Strawberries

1 cup

89.4

Papaya

1 cup

88.3

Parsley (fresh)

1 cup

79.8

Brussels sprouts (raw)

1 cup

74.8

Broccoli (raw)

1 cup

69.4

Mango

1 cup

60.1

Grape tomatoes 

1 cup

41.3

Romaine lettuce

1 bunch

26.7

Kale (cooked)

1 cup

21

Cantaloupe

1 cup

17.4

Red onion (raw)

1 onion

16

Banana

1 banana

14.1

Bartlett pear

1 large pear

10.1

Peach

1 large

7.09

Nectarines

1 cup

4.15

Carrots (frozen)

100 g

2.2

Figs (dried)

1 cup

1.79


How Much Vitamin C Should You Take?

You might think you need a lot of Vitamin C if you need to replenish your body’s supply every day.  The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C is—90 mg for adult men and 75 mg for women (85 mg to 120 mg per day for pregnant or breastfeeding women). Also, add 35 mg of Vitamin C per day if you smoke to counteract the effect of nicotine.7 

What does that look like in real life? One cup of strawberries, orange segments, or grapefruit juice each supply adequate Vitamin C for one day.

What happens if you get too much Vitamin C? The recommended daily amount of Vitamin C for adults is 65 to 90 mg per day, with the upper limit of 2,000 mg a day. Far exceeding that upper limit of Vitamin C might cause side effects such as abdominal cramps, headache, and heartburn.8 

What happens if you don't get enough Vitamin C? It’s rare for someone in the U.S. to have  a Vitamin C deficiency, and fortunately, Vitamin C is found in many foods, as noted above. However, almost half (46%) of U.S. adults and 85% of smokers are not getting enough Vitamin C through their daily diet.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin C (a.k.a. ascorbic acid) is an essential nutrient that delivers a variety of health benefits. What does Vitamin C do for your body? Among the many Vitamin C benefits, this nutrient supports the immune system, serves as an antioxidant powerhouse, supports healthy skin, and aids in collagen production.† Because your body can’t make Vitamin C, you need to get a fresh supply every day through Vitamin C-rich foods and, if needed, supplementation. What has the most Vitamin C? As you see from the above chart, many fruits and vegetables contain plenty of Vitamin C. And just a one-cup supply of some of them (think kiwifruit or red peppers) can dish up your daily recommended dose.

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

Learn More About Vitamins & Your Immune System:


This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


References 

  1. Medline. “Vitamins.” February 26, 2021. Accessed on: April 27, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002399.htm  
  2. University of Maryland Medical System. “Boost the Immune System.” 2021. Accessed on: April 28, 2021. https://www.umms.org/coronavirus/what-to-know/managing-medical-conditions/healthy-habits/boost-immune-system 
  3. University of Florida IFAS Extension. “Facts About Vitamin C.” September 2017. Accessed on: April 27, 2021. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf%5CFY%5CFY21500.pdf  
  4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Vitamin C.” March 2020. Accessed on: April 28, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-c/ 
  5. Journal of International Medical Research. “A Combination of High-Dose Vitamin C plus Zinc for the Common Cold.” February 1, 2012. Accessed on: April 28, 2021. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/147323001204000104 
  6. The Washington Post. “Morning or night? With food or without? Answers to your questions about taking supplements.” February 5, 2019. Accessed on: April 27, 2021.
  7. Harvard Health Publishing. “By the way, doctor: What's the right amount of vitamin C for me?” April 3, 2019. Accessed on: April 28, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/whats-the-right-amount-of-vitamin-c-for-me 
  8. Mayo Clinic. “Nutrition and healthy eating: Is it possible to take too much vitamin C?” March 18, 2020. Accessed on: April 28, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/vitamin-c/faq-20058030 
  9. National Institutes of Health. “Vitamin C.” March 22, 2021. Accessed on: April 27, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/ 


Nutrition Data from:

USDA National Nutrient Database: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/ 

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: https://ods.od.nih.gov/pubs/usdandb/VitaminC-Content.pdf