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The ABC’s of Vitamin C

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Photo by Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi for The New York Times

Photo by Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi for The New York Times

“Pop music is like aspirin and the blues are vitamins.” — Peter Tork, The Monkees

This Isn't Your Grandma's Vitamin C

Your brain loves vitamin C. Long after the rest of your body has been depleted (think scurvy) your brain will maintain its levels. Discovered over 80 years ago, we know now that vitamin C plays a key role in several core functions of the body:

  • In the formation of the myelin sheath that protects neurons and speeds the transmission of impulses, the basis of your cognitive performance

  • As an assistant in converting dopamine to serotonin (transforming your happy hormone to your stable hormone)

  • As an ingredient in collagen, core to teeth, bones and the strength and capacity of your blood vessels, a key factor in your cognitive ability as you age

You may think you're getting enough vitamin C, but are you? Factors that prevent your body from utilizing vitamin C are things like smoking (and yes, that includes vaping) and toxins you've been exposed to from air pollution (i.e. all you city slickers). Low vitamin C can lead to depression and fatigue. A New Zealand study published in the journal Nutrient found that 62 percent of 50-year olds from all income levels have inadequate levels of vitamin C (more men than women) and 93 percent are below the recommended blood levels. By the way, the rates of vitamin C inadequacy were found to be higher in the Unites States. Go figure.

“Persevering brain function hinges on many factors, from physical exercise to stimulating activities to a fruit- and vegetable - rich diet. Substantial amounts of vitamin C, especially starting in your adulthood, is part of that equation.” — Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today

Higher levels of vitamin C are connected to lower levels of cognitive impairment (read: it's good for your brain), help to shorten the duration and severity of colds, protect your body from environmental toxins, make your teeth and bones healthier, lessens your chances of developing cataracts and macular degeneration, and so much more. As one of the cheapest vitamin supplements to purchase and the most common that is bundled in multivitamin formulas, you've got no excuse not to take your C. Every. Single. Day.


Before you starting gulping thousands of milligrams (fun fact: that can lead to intense gut distress, if you know what we mean), know this – vitamin C is best absorbed by your body at low doses. You would do your body good by supplementing small amounts throughout the day and, of course, getting as much as you can from fruits and vegetables high in C. Please note: vitamin C is delicate and can be destroyed through heat - so if you're broiling, grilling, or frying those bell peppers (chocked full of vitamin C) you're not getting all the benefits.

Recommended Daily Allowances (source: National Institutes of Health )

FEMALES, 19 years and up, 75 mg/day

MALES, 19 years and up, 90 mg/day

For more information, read here.

According to Andrew Weill, MD, mega-dosing doesn’t do anything for you and could have negative impacts. “I used to recommend taking 2,000 to 6,000 mg of vitamin C daily (in three divided doses). In 1999, I lowered my recommendation to 200 mg – 500 mg (in two divided doses) after reviewing two well-designed studies showing that this amount more than saturates the body’s tissues and is sufficient to help protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. One of the studies concluded that 200 mg a day is the maximum amount of vitamin C that human cells can absorb, making higher dosing on a daily basis pointless.” Use your judgement.

Five Foods With the Most Vitamin C (SOURCE: WOMEN’S HEALTH MAGAZINE)

Red Bell Pepper

Colorful, crunchy, and incredibly low-cal, a half cup of red bell peppers is 95 milligrams of vitamin C. Per half cup, chopped: 19 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat fat), 3 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates, 3 g of sugar, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein.


Skip the juice and only eat the fresh fruit. One cup of cubed papaya provides 88 milligrams of vitamin C. Bonus: papaya’s a great source of vitamin A and fiber. Per cup of papaya pieces: 62 calories, 0.4 g fat (0 g sat fat), 12 mg sodium, 16 g carbohydrates, 11 g of sugar, 3 g fiber, 0.7 g protein.


Guava packs an incredible 377 milligrams of vitamin C per cup. Again, skip the juice or nectar versions, there is likely added sugar you don’t want. Per one cup serving: 112 calories, 2 g fat (0 g sat fat), 3 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrates, 15 g of sugar, 9 g fiber, 4 g protein.


This should be your go-to green not just because of the C content (81 milligrams per cup of chopped broccoli), but because it’s also a surprising source of protein (nearly three grams!). Per one cup serving, chopped: 31 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat fat), 30 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrates, 2 g of sugar, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein.


One cup of sliced strawberries has 98 milligrams of C. And no, strawberry shortcake doesn’t count in case you’re asking. Per one cup serving, sliced: 53 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g sat fat), 2 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrates, 8 g of sugar, 3 g fiber, 1 g protein