This fact sheet is one in a series containing information to help you select foods that provide adequate daily amounts of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Following these guidelines will put your diet in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Why Do We Need Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, has many uses in the human body. It helps maintain a healthy immune system, can slow or prevent cell damage, and aids in tooth and bone formation. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron from plant foods.
How Much Vitamin C Do We Need?
The amount of vitamin C you need each day depends on your age and gender. Average daily needs are listed below in milligrams (mg).
|Children (1–3 years)||15 mg|
|Children (4–8 years)||25 mg|
|Children (9–13 years)||45 mg|
|Teen girls (14–18 years)||75 mg|
|Teen boys (14–18 years)||65 mg|
|Pregnant women||85 mg|
|Breastfeeding women||115 mg|
How Can We Get Enough Vitamin C?
Eating a variety of foods containing vitamin C is the best way to get enough each day. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources. In the United States, healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet rarely do not get enough vitamin C.
What Are Good Sources of Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is found in the vegetables and fruits groups of MyPlate. The following table contains fruits and vegetables with high levels of vitamin C.
Good Sources of Vitamin C
|Food||Serving Size||Milligrams of Vitamin C|
|Red bell pepper||½ cup||95|
|Orange juice||¾ cup||75|
|Broccoli, cooked||½ cup||50|
|Brussels sprouts, cooked||½ cup||50|
|Green bell pepper||½ cup||45|
|Tomato juice||¾ cup||35|
|Potato, baked, with skin||1 medium||25|
|Cabbage, cooked||½ cup||25|
|Spinach, raw||1 cup||15|
What About Fortified Foods?
Some juices and ready-to-eat cereals have vitamin C added. The amount of vitamin C added to each product will vary. Check the nutrition label to see how much vitamin C the product will contribute to your daily diet. Always choose 100% fruit juice over fortified fruit drinks. Although they might be fortified with vitamin C, they lack the other vitamins and minerals that fruits and vegetables supply.
What About Supplements?
Healthy individuals who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables each day rarely need vitamin C supplements. If you do take a supplement or multivitamin, you should not consume more than 2,000 mg/day of vitamin C from foods and supplements. Although excess vitamin C will mostly be eliminated in urine, high doses can cause headaches, diarrhea, frequent urination and nausea. People with a history of kidney stones should avoid high levels of vitamin C.
Does Vitamin C Reduce the Risk of Getting a Cold?
Although vitamin C is a popular remedy for the common cold, research shows that vitamin C supplements do not reduce the risk. Some research does suggest that the length of a cold might be reduced slightly by taking a vitamin C supplement.
How to Prepare Foods to Retain Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be lost from foods during preparation, cooking or storage. To prevent loss of vitamin C, do the following:
- Serve fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible.
- Steam, boil or simmer foods in a very small amount of water, or microwave them for the shortest time possible.
- Cook potatoes in their skins. Be sure to wash the dirt off the outside of the potato.
- Store cut, raw fruits and vegetables in an airtight container and refrigerate. Do not soak or store in water.
Duyff, Roberta. American Dietetic Association: Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2012.
Escott-Stump, Mahan. Krause's Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Sanders, 2011.
Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. "MyPlate." (2010). Accessed September 2014. choosemyplate.gov.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2010.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Consumers. (2011). Accessed at ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer.
Reviewed by: Barbara Hennard, MA, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension