Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer

With an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, we get more vitamin C than we need in summer. But when autumn sets in and temperatures slide, families often get less of the vitamin while simultaneously being exposed to more germs -- a recipe for colds and flu.

Vitamin C is well known as the get-well vitamin. Who doesn't reach for oranges and vitamin C supplements at the first sign of a scratchy throat or a cough? But getting enough vitamin C on a daily basis is vital for your overall health.

The vitamin is a building block of collagen, which is an essential component of skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels, and it also helps develop scar tissue. Essentially, it helps your body grow tissues and repair them when there's damage.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, a group of nutrients that help prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for aging and are a contributing factor in the development of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. Antioxidants also play a key role in protecting the body against toxins, such as cigarette smoke and pollution.

If that weren't enough, a new study from researchers at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital and its affiliate, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, showed that vitamin C helped improve the emotional state of patients receiving acute care (i.e. short-term hospitalization).

Previous studies indicated hospital patients suffer from low levels of vitamins C and D, so researchers wanted to see what sort of impact supplementation would have (a group of patients were also given vitamin D; they exhibited no significant changes). The statistically and clinically significant improvement exhibited by patients given vitamin C supplements shows that vitamin C may very well play a role in our emotional well-being.

Vitamin C deficiency has been associated with everything from gingivitis and bleeding gums to anemia, nosebleeds, and weight gain resulting from slowed metabolism. So there are plenty of reasons we all need to make sure we're getting enough of the vitamin.

The body doesn't store vitamin C, so you need to get plenty of it each day. It's pretty difficult to overdose on vitamin C (because it can't be stored), but you shouldn't ingest more than 2,000 mg per day because excessive vitamin C consumption can lead to upset stomach and diarrhea. Keep in mind that 2,000 mg is the recommended maximum from all sources, including food, juices, supplements, and fortified foods.

Eating vitamin-C-rich foods is a simple way to load up on the antioxidant, and organic is always healthier since there's no pesticide residue. One orange offers about 116 percent of the recommended 60 mg for adults, but there are foods that offer even more vitamin C, including strawberries (136 percent), boiled Brussels sprouts (161 percent), steamed broccoli (205 percent), raw red bell peppers (291 percent), and papayas (313 percent). Falling a little short of oranges, but still high in vitamin C, are cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, boiled cauliflower, and boiled kale.

Juices and fortified foods may seem like a great idea, but they usually aren't. The best nutrition comes from a food in its natural form. And since nutrients begin to degrade as soon as foods are harvested, you're getting the best nutrition when you consume local foods. Throw in processing for juices, and there's a lot you're just not getting from juices. As for fortified foods, few processed products contain an adequate amount of nutrients to really make a difference.

Sticking to whole, vitamin-C-rich foods might be more challenging in the winter, but a simple supplement can boost your intake when you need it. Whatever you do, just make sure you're loading up on vitamin C. Your body will thank you.

Vitamin C Health Benefits

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, has several health benefits:

    - Antioxidant: Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals.

    - Immune system support: Vitamin C helps boost the immune system and may reduce the severity and duration of colds.

    - Collagen synthesis: Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, a protein that helps maintain skin, bone, and tissue health.

    - Iron absorption: Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from plant-based foods, such as leafy greens.

    - Brain health: Vitamin C has been linked to better cognitive function and may help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

It's important to note that Vitamin C is water-soluble and the body does not store it, so it's necessary to obtain adequate amounts through diet or supplementation.


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