Vitamin C Health Benefits & Food Sources: A Complete Guide
Jun 15, 2021
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.
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
How Much Vitamin C (mg)
Orange juice (frozen, concentrate)
Sweet red peppers (cooked)
Brussels sprouts (raw)
Red onion (raw)
1 large pear
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.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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