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The Benefits of Vitamin C

What can vitamin C do for your health?

Vitamin C's Role in the Body

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It's involved in many body functions, including formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.

Vitamin C is one of many antioxidants that can protect against damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, as well as toxic chemicals and pollutants like cigarette smoke. Free radicals can build up and contribute to the development of health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.

Vitamin C is not stored in the body (excess amounts are excreted), so overdose is not a concern. But it's still important not to exceed the safe upper limit of 2,000 milligrams a day to avoid stomach upset and diarrhea.

Water-soluble vitamins must be continuously supplied in the diet to maintain healthy levels. Eat vitamin-C-rich fruits and vegetables raw, or cook them with minimal water so you don't lose some of the water-soluble vitamin in the cooking water.

Vitamin C is easily absorbed both in food and in pill form, and it can enhance the absorption of iron when the two are eaten together.

Deficiency of vitamin C is relatively rare, and primarily seen in malnourished adults. In extreme cases, it can lead to scurvy -- characterized by weakness, anemia, bruising, bleeding, and loose teeth.

How to Get More Vitamin C in Your Diet

This antioxidant super-nutrient is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Yet, according to dietary intake data and the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, most adults don't get enough vitamin C in their diets.  This is especially true of smokers and non-Hispanic black males, according to research done by Jeff Hampl, PhD, RD, and colleagues at the University of Arizona.

The foods richest in vitamin C are citrus fruits, green peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Other good sources include dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, papaya, mango, watermelon, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, red peppers, raspberries, blueberries, winter squash, and pineapples.

Here are eight easy ways to work more fruits and veggies into your diet each day:

  1. Add pureed or grated fruits and veggies to recipes for muffins, meatloaf, and soups.
  2. Keep cut-up fruits and veggies on hand so they are ready for a quick snack.
  3. Frozen fruit slices make a cool summer treat.
  4. Include dark lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded broccoli slaw on all your sandwiches and wraps.
  5. Eat raw veggies with hummus, low-fat dips, and salsas.
  6. Add fresh or frozen berries to muffins, pancakes, cereal, and salads.
  7. Throw a handful of dried fruit on top of your cereal or in a baggie with nuts for an easy snack.
  8. Enjoy a glass of vegetable juice as a filling and low-calorie mid-afternoon snack.

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