Vitamin C: Tips For Increasing Your Intake

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 10:54am

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

A new RDA?

According to a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the National Institutes of Health is taking another look at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C. The current RDA for vitamin C is 60 milligrams per dayabout the amount you get from one orange. Due to recent findings on the potential health benefits of this wonder vitamin, the NIH is now considering boosting the RDA to somewhere between 100 and 200 milligrams per day, two to three times the current recommendation.

Why all the hype?

Vitamin C has long been known for its value as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are natural compounds found in many of the foods we eat. The most well known antioxidants are vitamin C, selenium, beta carotene and vitamin E. Antioxidants work by inhibiting toxic substances in the body (also known as "free radicals") which may lead to the development of cancers, heart disease and the aging process. There has been a strong correlation between diets high in fruits and vegetables (which are rich in antioxidants) and reduced risk of chronic diseases. Vitamin C may account for much of this protection. However, we are also finding numerous other compounds within fruits and vegetables, collectively called "phytochemicals", that may also play a preventative role. Phytochemicals are defined simply as chemicals found in plants. They occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. These substances, many of which also have an antioxidant effect, may protect our bodies from cellular damage that can lead to cancer and other chronic diseases.

Take time for 5-A-Day

Due to the strong correlation between diets abundant in fruits and vegetables and disease prevention, The National Cancer Institute launched the "5-A-Day" program. The basis of this campaign promotes the intake of a minimum of five fruits and vegetables daily as a good defense against cancer and other diseases. A specific recommendation of this program is to include vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables in the diet each day since vitamin C is a particularly well-researched antioxidant. The mainstay of the program, however, is that by eating five servings of produce daily we can easily take in not just a good dose of vitamin C, but the minimum amount of protective plant chemicals shown to be effective in reducing risk of chronic diseases. Remember, five is the minimum amount. In the case of fruits and veggies it's definitely a situation where more is better!

Vitamin C supplements or oranges?

It has been well-established that the basis of any good diet must include multiple servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Research has only scratched the surface of finding and isolating the thousands of protective chemicals found in plant foods. Did you know there are at least 10,000 phytochemicals in tomatoes alone? Clearly, we can't get all of these benefits from a supplemental pill. Unfortunately, however, research studies have indicated that many Americans still don't get the current RDA of 60 milligrams of vitamin C. How then will we boost our scanty vitamin C intake to meet the 100-200 milligrams a day proposed under the new guidelines? The best answer (though not an easy one) is we need to be more pro-active and creative about including generous amounts of fruits and vegetables in our diets each day. Unfortunately, our fast-paced society has trained us to seek easy and quick solutions. Taking the time to peel a piece of fruit or slice a vegetable ranks low on our list of priorities. Realities being realities, however, even nutritionists recognize that with this information at hand, many people will still not find the time to eat plenty of produce. In these situations, supplemental vitamin C is probably a good idea. Don't supplement excessively though, as vitamin C taken in amounts excessive of 500 milligrams daily is excreted in the urine and provides no further beneficial effect. Also, megadoses of vitamin C (in the thousands of milligrams daily range) are linked to the formation of kidney stones. The bottom line is that your produce aisles are the best key to your long-term health. If you typically fall short of the 5-A-Day recommendations, however, then consider a modest vitamin C supplement not to exceed 250-500 milligrams daily.

Easy ways to get your C

By consuming at least three of the following fruits and veggies daily, you can easily take in 100-200 milligrams of vitamin C. But, don't forget, five or more total servings daily is the key to getting abundant antioxidants and disease-fighting phytochemicals.

  • 1 orange
  • 1 guava
  • 2 kiwis
  • 1 cup cooked spinach
  • 2 cups raw spinach
  • 1 cup cantaloupe
  • 1 mango
  • 1/2 cup grapefruit juice
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 2 cups watermelon
  • 1 cup raw or cooked cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup raw or cooked broccoli
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 1/2 read pepper