Vitamin C: The Super-Antioxidant You Need More Of

You may take vitamin C for granted; it’s one of those ho-hum nutrients many forget about (unless it’s winter and you’re battling a cold). But this crucial antioxidant plays a profound role in your health way beyond flu season.
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Shredded Papaya Salad

Try this Shredded Papaya Salad

Here are some of vitamin C’s most important health benefits (especially for summer):

  • Strong, healthy joints. Vitamin C regulates the synthesis of the structural protein collagen, involved in building joint cartilage – especially important during summer, when more hiking, biking, running and other activities may take a toll on joints. Studies also suggest vitamin C improves healing of soft tissue and tendon injuries.
  • Glowing skin. The role of vitamin C in collagen production, plus its powerful antioxidant benefits, makes it essential for healthy, youthful skin. Studies show vitamin C helps diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, protects skin from free radical damage and promotes faster wound healing.
  • Travel insurance. Your immune system could use some insurance before your summer vacations. Vitamin C supports several components of the immune system, and studies link deficiencies in this vitamin with impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Plus, if you do get sick on your summer trip, vitamin C can ease symptoms and shorten the duration of colds and respiratory tract infections.
  • A healthy heart. Summer heat, humidity and exercise can put stress on your heart – keep yours strong with vitamin C. It’s linked with healthy cholesterol levels and improved blood vessel health, and many studies show a high intake of vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease.
  • Eye protection. Vitamin C supports the health of blood vessels in the eye and is believed to protect against UV damage – especially important during the warmer months when you’re spending more time outdoors.

Related: The Best Time to Take Your Vitamins

Yellow pepper

1 large = 341 milligrams (percentage of recommended daily value, or DV: 378%)

TRY THIS:

  • Sauté yellow peppers, leeks and garlic and purée with fresh basil for a colorful alternative to tomato sauce.
  • Grill halved yellow peppers and stuff with quinoa, black beans and chopped tomatoes and avocado.

Strawberries

1 cup sliced = 98 mg (DV: 108%)

TRY THIS:

  • Toss strawberries with aged balsamic vinegar, minced basil and coarsely ground black pepper and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche or mascarpone cheese.
  • Dip large strawberries in melted dark chocolate and crushed walnuts.

Papaya

1 cup cubed = 88 mg (DV: 98%)

TRY THIS:

  • Sprinkle cold papaya wedges with chile powder and fresh lime juice.
  • Toss papaya cubes with blackberries, baby arugula, olive oil and crumbled feta cheese.

Broccoli

1 cup chopped = 81 mg (DV: 90%)

TRY THIS:

  • Cut broccoli into thin spears, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic powder and cumin and grill until tender.
  • Simmer broccoli florets and yellow onions in stock then purée with coconut milk and chill for a creamy soup.

Kiwi

1 medium = 64 mg (DV: 71%)

TRY THIS:

  • Purée kiwi chunks and lime juice until smooth, add whole raspberries and freeze in ice-pop molds.
  • Toss kiwi slices with endive, blackberries and goat cheese, and dress with a lemon-basil vinaigrette.

Cantaloupe

1 cup cubed = 59 mg (DV: 65%)

TRY THIS:

  • Purée cantaloupe cubes with fresh peaches and minced thyme and freeze in an ice-cream maker.
  • Toss diced cantaloupe with minced serrano peppers, red bell peppers, red onion, cilantro and lime juice for a zesty salsa.

Kale

1 cup chopped = 20 mg (DV: 22%)

TRY THIS:

  • Finely chop baby kale and toss with corn kernels, grilled zucchini, red onion, avocado cubes and shredded Asiago cheese. 
  • Combine kale, green peas, basil, pumpkin seeds, garlic and olive oil in a blender and process into a creamy pesto.

Cherry tomatoes

1 cup = 19 mg (DV: 21%)

TRY THIS:

  • Thread cherry tomatoes on rosemary-sprig skewers and grill until tender.
  • Coarsely chop cherry tomatoes, lightly sauté with diced yellow peppers, baby spinach, red onion and minced thyme and toss with whole-grain pasta.
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Vitamin C Supplements: What’s The Difference?

FOOD-BASED VITAMIN C. Natural ascorbic acid is chemically identical to synthetic forms, but food- based forms can have advantages. Most synthetic ascorbic acid is produced from chemically treated corn or ingredients that may contain GMOs. While studies show little difference in the bioavailability between natural and synthetic ascorbic acid, the presence of other compounds in food-based formulas may enhance absorption. And vitamin C from food supplements, like acerola cherry powder, also contains a variety of plant compounds that have their own health benefits.

BIOFLAVONOID COMBINATIONS. Bioflavonoids are a group of antioxidants that occur naturally in a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruit. Some studies suggest they may impact the activity and availability of vitamin C. And flavonoids have their own health benefits; a number of studies point to their anti-inflammatory, heart-protective and cancer-preventive properties. Look for products that contain hesperidin, rutin or citrus bioflavonoids.

BUFFERED FORMS. Ascorbic acid is sometimes combined with a mineral to “buffer” it, or make it less acidic. These supplements are best for people with a sensitive stomach or compromised digestion. Minerals slow the rate at which ascorbic acid travels through the small intestine, allowing more time for absorption. Find buffered forms of C combined with several minerals: Look for it as calcium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate or potassium ascorbate. One form, Ester-C, is a patented calcium ascorbate ingredient that also contains vitamin C metabolites.

FAT-SOLUBLE FORMS. Ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin; unlike fat-soluble vitamins, it’s not stored in the body, so it must be replenished regularly. Ascorbyl palmitate (also called vitamin C ester, not to be confused with Ester-C), is a derivative of ascorbic acid that has both water- and fat-soluble properties. Studies suggest ascorbyl palmitate may be better absorbed than water-soluble vitamin C and that liposomal forms are better absorbed and utilized by the body.