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Medical News Today: What are the best foods for vitamin C?

Fruits and vegetables are the best food sources of vitamin C. Eating a variety of these healthful foods will help people meet their daily requirements.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, plays many important roles in the body. In particular, it is key to the immune system, helping prevent infections and fight disease.

The human body does not store vitamin C, so people need to get this nutrient from their diet every day. It dissolves in water, and any excess leaves the body in urine.

This article looks at the foods richest in vitamin C and how to include them in the diet. It also discusses the vitamin’s function and health benefits.

Best foods for vitamin C

Vitamin C is important for a person’s immune system.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C for adults is:

  • 90 milligrams (mg) for males
  • 75 mg for females
  • 85 mg when pregnant
  • 120 mg when breastfeeding
  • an additional 35 mg for people who smoke

Some experts believe that people should consume much more than the recommended daily allowance for good health. One scientific editorial suggests that 200 mg per day is an optimal amount for most adults.

One serving of any of the foods below contains more than 20 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. This makes these foods “excellent” sources of the vitamin, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The following 20 foods are among the richest sources of vitamin C:

Food Serving size Milligrams (mg) per serving Percent of 90 mg daily value (DV)
1 Guava, raw 1 cup, raw 377 419%
2 Sweet red pepper, raw 1 cup, raw 190 211%
3 Tomato juice 1 cup, canned 170 188.9%
4 Orange juice 1 cup 124 137.8%
5 Sweet green pepper 1 cup, raw 120 133%
6 Hot green chili pepper, raw 1 pepper, raw 109 121%
7 Oranges 1 large fruit 97.5 108.8%
8 Strawberries 1 cup, sliced 97.6 108%
9 Papaya 1 small fruit 95.6 106.2%
10 Pink grapefruit juice 1 cup 93.9 104.3%
11 Broccoli 1 cup, raw 81.2 90.2%
12 Pineapple chunks 1 cup, raw 78.9 87.7%
13 Potato 1 large vegetable 72.7 80.8%
14 Brussels sprouts 1 cup, raw 74.8 79.8%
15 Kiwifruit 1 fruit 64 71.1%
16 Mango 1 cup, raw 60.1 66.7%
17 Cantaloupe 1 cup 57.3 63.7%
18 Cauliflower 1 cup, raw 51.6 57.3%
19 Lemon 1 fruit 44.5 49.4%
20 White grapefruit ½ medium fruit 39 43.3%

Does cooking affect vitamin C?

Cooking may reduce the amount of the vitamin in fruits and vegetables. To lose the least vitamin C, the ODS recommend steaming or microwaving these foods.

To get the most vitamin C, eat a variety of raw fruits and vegetables every day.

Why is vitamin C important?

senior woman sitting on settee holding her shoulder in pain
A person with vitamin C deficiency may experience joint pain.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It protects the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can cause changes in cells and DNA that can lead to illnesses, including cancer.

This vitamin also plays a key role in almost all of the body’s tissues. Without vitamin C, the body cannot make collagen, a protein that is necessary for building and maintaining:

  • healthy bones
  • joints
  • skin
  • digestive tract tissues

Vitamin C is an important part of the immune system, which defends against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Studies show that low levels of vitamin C lead to problems with the immune system and other illnesses.

Vitamin C deficiency can result in a condition called scurvy. This deficiency is relatively rare in the United States.

A vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, may cause:

Health benefits of vitamin C intake

The following sections discuss some of the most important benefits of vitamin C.

Boosting heart health

Some evidence suggests that vitamin C may help lower the risk of heart disease or its complications.

One study indicates that people who consume more vitamin C have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Other researchers are not convinced that vitamin C alone improves heart health. However, it is clear that eating more fruits and vegetables can help boost the health of the heart by providing a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Strengthening the immune system

Vitamin C has an immune-boosting effect that can help the body fight off illnesses, such as the common cold.

One study found that vitamin C helped prevent pneumonia and supported tetanus treatment. Also, findings of an animal study suggest that vitamin C plays a role in reducing lung inflammation that results from the flu.

Lowering the risk of some cancers

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, so it can prevent damage caused by free radicals. This may help prevent diseases such as cancer.

Investigations into whether vitamin C effectively prevents cancer have yielded mixed findings. However, the results of a few studies have been positive:

Meals and recipes for a vitamin C boost

Vitamin C-rich foods can be a part of nearly any meal. The following breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas can help a person meet their daily requirement.


Many people have a glass of orange juice with breakfast, but this is high in sugar. In fact, some brands of orange juice contain as much sugar as a soda.

Instead, load up on vitamin C in the morning with some of these breakfast options:


A healthful lunch can help prevent afternoon fatigue and keep energy levels up until dinner. Some ideas for a vitamin C-infused midday meal include:


Dinner can be a rich source of vitamin C when a person tops vegetables or meats with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

When vitamin C accompanies iron-rich plant foods, the body absorbs the iron more efficiently.

Some dinner ideas include:

How much vitamin C should I get?

man using a lighter to light cigarette
A person who smokes may need more vitamin C.

Some people may need higher amounts of vitamin C than others. People who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, for example, may require more vitamin C to reduce the damage of the free radicals that the smoke releases.

Other groups who may benefit from a higher vitamin C intake include:

  • people who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables or who have a very restricted diet
  • people who are unable to fully absorb vitamins and nutrients
  • people with certain health conditions, such as kidney disease or cancer

If someone cannot get enough vitamin C in their diet, they can take supplements. Many brands are available in drug stores and online.


Vitamin C is necessary for good health. Because it is abundant in many plant foods, eating a healthful diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables usually provides a person with all the vitamin C that they need.

People who wish to boost their vitamin C intake can do so by eating rich sources of the vitamin each day.